10/13/2006 12:00AM

Off her last, Illuminise the best bet


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bettors who wager against the best horse in the $100,000 Harold C. Ramser Handicap cannot exhale until Diplomat Lady surrenders in deep stretch of the mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.

Diplomat Lady is the richest and fastest of nine entered in the Ramser on Sunday at Santa Anita, but since a 39-1 upset last fall in the Hollywood Starlet, the front-runner has not reproduced top form over a distance of ground, and never raced on turf.

What she has done is face the best - six of her last seven starts were in Grade 1's, and she won the Beaumont, a Grade 2 sprint at Keeneland, in April. Diplomat Lady has won 4 of 11 and earned $533,484 for trainer Chris Paasch and owner Charles Cono, and the drop in class Sunday compensates for the surface and distance challenges. If she gets loose under Patrick Valenzuela, she could be gone.

Front-running sprint specialists River's Prayer and Indian Breeze also entered the Ramser, however. It does not take a genius to predict that the race should unfold for a closer.

There are several from which to choose, including graded-stakes-placed Sol Mi Fa, rapidly improving Brendolyn, Fun Logic, Golden Silk, Zoemeg, and recently imported Illuminise.

Sol Mi Fa is the most prominent turf specialist. Trained by Jim Cassidy, the enigmatic filly's best efforts in four U.S. starts include a win in the Bay Meadows Oaks and a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 San Clemente at Del Mar. Imported from Europe this spring, the 3-for-11 Sol Mi Fa is dropping from the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

The best gamble in the Ramser is Illuminise, a filly making her second U.S. start and not easy to support based on traditional handicapping. After all, the 1-for-7 import is eligible to the first allowance condition, and could muster only a fifth-place finish in her U.S. debut two weeks ago against allowance company.

It was not a typical fifth-place finish, however. Racing 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf, Illuminise broke slowly and trailed the field. She remained last of 12 into the stretch, then weaved through traffic with virtually no encouragement, missed by only 2 3/4 lengths, and galloped out super. If it was designed as a prep race, it was ideal.

Trainer Neil Drysdale brings her back on short rest, two weeks, and Corey Nakatani is back aboard. The quality of the Ramser is suspect anyway, and if Illuminise improves second time out she can post a mild upset.

The Ramser is race 7 on a nine-race card.