04/08/2005 12:00AM

Elusive Diva likely winner back on turf


ARCADIA, Calif. - Elusive Diva returns to favorable conditions Sunday at Santa Anita as a standout in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap. At 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, the layout is familiar to Elusive Diva, who scored an impressive stakes win Jan. 30 over the course before losing badly three weeks later in the mud.

"I've run her twice on sloppy tracks and she didn't run well either time," trainer Mark Glatt said. But one start back, she certainly ran well on the hill, winning by a half-length and earning a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. "That downhill course is a little tricky for a horse the first time," Glatt said. "It's safe to assume she took to it very well."

, the 117-pound highweight, has won four races and $288,070 from 11 starts and faces eight rivals Sunday. Graded stakes winner Quero Quero and comebacker Winendynme are in at 116. Very Vegas and Allswellthatnswell will contest the pace. Chasethegold gets a beneficial surface switch. Megec Blis, Irgunette, and Gypsy Dot are the outsiders.

The return to a turf sprint is not the only change for Elusive Diva. She loses Kent Desormeaux - who was not named on any horses at Santa Anita for Sunday - and gets Pat Valenzuela. "Desormeaux didn't do anything wrong; he rode her well all three starts," Glatt said. "We're just making a change. [Valenzuela] has such a great attitude to win."

Valenzuela won the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes on Elusive Diva last summer at Hollywood Park. That race and her downhill win Jan. 30 make her Feb. 21 loss easy to forgive. She has trained well for her first start since. A presser with the best recent sprint figures, Elusive Diva enters the Las Cienegas as one of the most probable winners on the card.

will aim for an upset in her second start following a layoff. She won her only downhill start a year ago, giving trainer Gary Mandella reason to point her to the Las Cienegas. She is expected to move forward in her second start back, with her comeback having been on the main track.

"This is what we've been looking at all along," Mandella said. "I ran her on dirt out of desperation, hoping she would get something out of it. I think she did."

The early pace will be contested by allowance-caliber Allswellthatnswell and stakes winner Very Vegas. When the leaders tire, Elusive Diva should be in position to rally for the win.