05/26/2006 11:00PM

Gamely pivotal race for Argentina


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Five months into the year, you'd think a leader would have emerged in the filly-mare grass division. Not this season.

Silver Cup won three stakes this winter at Santa Anita, then disappeared. In her absence, a disorderly cast will race for a $300,000 purse Monday at Hollywood Park in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Stakes. A 1 1/8-mile turf race, the Gamely is ripe for an upset. All eight starters have flaws, including favorites Argentina, Sharp Lisa, and Ticker Tape.

No trainer has won the Gamely more times than Bobby Frankel, whose six victories provide sufficient perspective to assess the quality of the 2006 filly-mare turf division. His half-hearted endorsement: "They're okay."

Sunday, "okay" may be enough. Only one starter, Ticker Tape, is a Grade 1 turf winner. There are no stars, though Frankel's was supposed to be one. A Group 1-placed import from Europe, Argentina seeks redemption after two defeats at low odds at Santa Anita. Frankel also starts Eternal Melody, who was second by a nose in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara.

The six other runners are , winner of the slow-paced Santa Barbara; Dancing Edie, who is the likely pacesetter but is unproven at the class; Ticker Tape, the 2004 American Oaks winner who has tailed off; Shining Energy, a graded-stakes-winning miler; Dalicia, winner of a second-level allowance; and Hollywood Story, who is trying turf for only the second time.

The Gamely is race 6 on the card, which includes the Shoemaker Mile (race 8), and it may be the last chance in California for Argentina. She ran well in her U.S. debut March 26, finishing second in the Grade 2 Santa Ana. Bet to 3-5 next out, she finished a flat fourth in the Santa Barbara.

"She ran well the first time, but the second time, she [was compromised by] the Euro-bounce," Frankel said.

The Santa Barbara was five weeks ago, on April 22. Argentina returns on Sunday ready to roll, with only one prepared excuse.

"I think she'll run good, but she's by Sadler's Wells, so you'd think she would like a little cut in the ground," said Frankel. "If the grass is too hard for her, I'll probably bring her back East."

Alex Solis rides Argentina, who placed in two Group 1 races last spring in France. Her career record is 2 for 8, and there is a chance she is simply not as good as handicappers have made her out to be.

"Remember, she's eligible to two-other-than," Frankel said.

Sharp Lisa has accomplished a lot in a short time. After winning her debut as a 2-year-old in 2004, she has raced exclusively in graded stakes, winning 4 of 12 overall. Her career stalled until trainer Doug O'Neill put her on turf this spring. Sired by Dixieland Band and produced by a Dynaformer mare, Sharp Lisa finished fourth, beaten a half-length, in the Santa Ana, then wired the Santa Barbara.

Sharp Lisa's chances Monday depend on how she copes with Dancing Edie, who is expected to set the pace. Shining Energy got a confidence-building win last time in the American Beauty, and she will be finishing. Ticker Tape had a troubled trip in the stretch of the Grade 3 Wilshire last month and could be coming back around.

Eternal Melody, the second Frankel starter, lost by a nose last time out after having a bad trip.

"She was stuck in behind the slow pace, they flew home, and she got beat an inch," Frankel said.

The field

Gamely Breeders' Cup Stakes
Purse: $300,000; 1 1/8 miles turf; Grade 1

1 Dalicia D. Cohen 116 8-1
2 Shining Energy V. Espinoza 118 8-1
3 Ticker Tape J. Valdivia Jr. 116 6-1
4 Hollywood Story M. Pedroza 116 10-1
5 Argentina A. Solis 116 5-2
6 Sharp Lisa C. Nakatani 120 7-2
7 Dancing Edie T. Baze 116 15-1
8 Eternal Melody D. Flores 116 7-2

* Odds by Mike Hammersly