01/28/2005 1:00AM

Is Island Fashion still top shelf?

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Horsephotos
Island Fashion (right), beating Miss Loren in the Lady's Secret, returns from a three-month layoff after losing 4 of her last 5 races.

ARCADIA, Calif. - When she seeks her second straight Santa Monica Handicap victory Sunday at Santa Anita, Island Fashion's resume will outshine every other starter in the Grade 1, seven-furlong race.

But what have you done for me lately? Don't ask. Nine fillies and mare will try to knock off the favorite in the $250,000 Santa Monica, and their timing is perfect. That is because Island Fashion may not be the same mare that blazed to successive Grade 1's last winter, followed by a gallant runner-up finish against males in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Since then, Island Fashion's deteriorating form is evident from weakening speed figures. Whereas she once consistently earned triple-digit Beyers, Island Fashion has stalled in the low 90's. Has she lost a step?

"I don't think so," trainer Marcelo Polanco said. "Numbers show sometimes, but she's the same as she was last year, or even better."

Others disagree. Island Fashion has won six races and more than $1.7 million, but nearly a year has passed since she delivered a Grade 1-caliber performance. It is unfortunate, because Island Fashion produced one of the most thrilling moments of the 2004 winter meet when she battled Southern Image to deep stretch in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Since then, has lost 4 of 5, including double-digit defeats in Arkansas and Tokyo and disappointing midpack finishes in Texas and at Hollywood Park. Polanco said she has trained super for her first start in three months. Fast works do not always translate to afternoon ability, however.

"She worked Monday and worked awesome," Polanco said. "I think she's ready. I'm very confident."

Pat Valenzuela rides Island Fashion, whose rivals are a scattered bunch.

Yearly Report would be among the Santa Monica favorites, but she entered the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff on Saturday, and trainer Bob Baffert said the Santa Monica on Sunday is "a backup plan, if the rain and track conditions got me."

, 6 of 9 lifetime, is a seven-furlong specialist and the one to beat if she runs Sunday.

Either way, Baffert will be represented in the Santa Monica. Resplendency, a lightly raced 4-year-old, raced gate to wire and earned a 97 Beyer in the off-the-turf Monrovia Handicap on Dec. 31. The Monrovia was Resplendency's third win from seven starts, and first stakes win.

Baffert said Resplendency is "doing really well, she's always had talent, but she had little things plague her. With maturity, she's just getting it all together. She's at the top of her game right now."

drops out of the best race - a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The 5-year-old Tamweel has since changed stables, and has been aimed to the Santa Monica for weeks by new trainer Tom Amoss. Tamweel has won 5 of 15, and employs an up-front running style in routes that suggests seven furlongs is perfect for her.

has won two straight without exceeding a 90 Beyer; Salt Champ won 4 of 7 including three Group 1's in South America. She makes her U.S. debut for Richard Mandella. Royally Chosen is a consistent California-bred; Platinum Princess and Born to Dance appear outclassed.

In each of the past 10 years, the Santa Monica has been won with a Beyer Figure of 100 or higher. Yearly Report is the only one in the field that appears capable of running that fast. Elusive Diva would have been a Santa Monica contender, but she entered the $75,000 Wishing Well Handicap Sunday instead.

The field

Santa Monica Handicap
Purse: $250,000; Grade 1; 7 furlongs

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1IrgunetteA. Bisono11230-1
2TizakittyG. Gomez1158-1
3Salt ChampG. Stevens11615-1
4Yearly ReportJ. Bailey1197-5
5Island FashionP. Valenzuela1205-2
6Royally ChosenD. Flores11510-1
7Platinum PrincessM. Smith11220-1
8TamweelR. Douglas1185-1
9ResplendencyC. Fusilier11415-1
10Born to DanceD. Sorenson11330-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly