02/27/2006 1:00AM

'Fantastic' favored in easier spot


ARCADIA, Calif. - Scratched from Sunday's Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap, Fantastic Spain will instead be a strong favorite in an optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on turf on Wednesday at Santa Anita.

Trained by Neil Drysdale for David Bienstock and Chuck Winner, , 6, most recently won his 2006 debut by 2 3/4 lengths in an optional claimer at 1 1/4 miles on turf on Feb 1. After stalking the pace for the first six furlongs, Fantastic Spain engaged the leaders on the turn and pulled clear in the final furlong.

Wednesday's race drew eight runners, including several who have been running in stakes.

Trainer Bobby Frankel starts , the winner of the 2005 San Luis Obispo Handicap. License to Run, 6, is winless in two subsequent starts, including a ninth in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes here last month. Wednesday's race marks his first start for a claiming price.

The drop in class for License to Run could provide the horse with a win or may be a sign that his form is rapidly tailing off.

, who is coupled in the betting with Fantastic Spain, will set the pace. A two-time Group 1 winner in Argentina in 2004, Romeo Plus is winless in four starts in the United States. He was sixth in an optional claimer at a mile on turf on Feb. 2 after leading to the final turn.

A quick pace will help Hatif and Sleepless Joy.

Hatif, 7, is winless in nine starts, dating back to an optional claimer at Del Mar in July 2004. Trained by Paulo Lobo, Hatif was seventh in the Thunder Road Handicap on Feb. 8, his only start this year.

is an interesting prospect. Trained by Bob Hess, Sleepless Joy is making his first start in the U.S. after a French career that included 5 wins in 23 starts. He frequently started in France's tough handicap division, in fields of as many as 18 runners and at distances ranging from a mile to 1 1/4 miles.

Stormin Away drew the rail for Wednesday's race, his third appearance on turf. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Stormin Away was a closing second in an optional claimer at a mile on turf on Feb. 2, his first start in two months. He could be a factor in the stretch if the pace is fast.