03/28/2003 12:00AM

Highweights aimed past Santa Lucia


ARCADIA, Calif. - Ideally, Bare Necessities and Printemps would not be eligible for the $75,000 Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita Sunday.

The two mares have run in graded stakes races this year, but without success.

Printemps won the minor Paseana Handicap in January, but was not a factor in two subsequent Grade 1 races - the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita handicaps. Bare Necessities finished third in the El Encino Stakes and fourth in the La Canada Stakes before rebounding with a convincing win in the Sacramento Handicap at Golden Gate Fields March 9.

By starting them in the restricted Santa Lucia Handicap, their trainers are hoping to provide the pair with a confidence booster and a springboard to major stakes races in coming months.

Run at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, the Santa Lucia is restricted to fillies and mares that have not win a first-place purse of $50,000 or more this year.

Bare Necessities and Printemps are the 120-pound highweights against seven other fillies and mares, including defending champion Alexine and Meguial, who was Group 1 placed in Argentina last year.

Meguial poses a danger to the highweights. A 4-year-old trained by Doug O'Neill, Meguial won her United States debut in a one-mile allowance race Feb. 26, leading throughout.

"We thought we'd be up close," O'Neill said of the prep race. "We had no idea we'd be on the lead. The fractions were pretty swift. With a little luck, we could be right there."

Alexine has made only two starts since her victory in the Santa Lucia Handicap last year. She finished second by a nose in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park in late April and then was laid up with muscle soreness, trainer Richard Mandella said.

In her only start this year, she finished seventh in an allowance race on the hillside turf course Jan. 29.

"In the race down the hill, she was a little too short," Mandella said. "She was just getting going when it was over. She's not the best, but she's not bad. I like her chances."

Printemps is the most accomplished member of the field, having won 8 of 19 starts and $544,080. A 6-year-old trained by Ron McAnally, Printemps finished third in three Grade 1 races last year - the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita handicaps and the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.

While McAnally has been frustrated by her recent losses, he said he is hoping a win on Sunday can give Printemps a boost before the spring's major stakes races.

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