02/20/2003 12:00AM

Hess's patience could pay

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Spring Meadow did not start in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap Jan. 25 because trainer Bob Hess Jr. did not want her in a tough field that included Affluent and Sightseek.

Instead, he pointed Spring Meadow to Saturday's $125,000 Las Flores Handicap at Santa Anita, a race that has drawn a strong field of fillies and mares.

Run at six furlongs, the Grade 3 Las Flores includes three stakes winners - September Secret, Secret Liaison, and Spring Meadow; stakes-placed Brisquette, Shameful, and Wild Tickle; and allowance race winner Mon Ange.

Spring Meadow and Secret Liaison share high weight of 117 pounds. Spring Meadow may be favored on the basis of her second-place finish in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 28.

Hess did not dwell on his decision to pass the Santa Monica.

"This field is probably a notch below," Hess said of the Las Flores. "It's more time between races and it's a better distance. For her value in the breeding shed, this is important."

Last year, Spring Meadow won the Stonerside Stakes at Lone Star Park and placed in two Grade 1 stakes races in New York, finishing second in the Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park and third in the Test Stakes at Saratoga. She followed that with two unplaced finishes in autumn stakes races.

"The Test zapped her," Hess said. "She lost a lot of weight. We backed off and got her right."

Spring Meadow, a 4-year-old, is a stalker who will have plenty of pace to chase.

Mon Ange, Secret Liaison, and Shameful have speed, but Mon Ange is likely to be in front. A 5-year-old trained by Richard Matlow, Mon Ange was a three-length winner of a six-furlong allowance race on Jan. 16.

Secret Liaison has not started since finishing second in the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park last July. Shameful was second in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25.

September Secret has not started since winning the Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park last spring. She was sidelined by a quarter crack last summer, but has trained well in recent weeks. September Secret, a 4-year-old, has won 3 of 4 with her only loss coming in an allowance race last year following a layoff.

Trainer Mike Machowsky has been elated with her recent workouts.

"She's a very talented filly," Machowsky said. "She doesn't put too many races together and we want to run her when we can."

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