01/12/2006 1:00AM

It's easier for La Reina to stay at home

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Trainer Shug McGaughey decided the Marshua's River was the best option for La Reina.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Shug McGaughey could have sent La Reina to Louisiana Downs this weekend, where she would have been one of the outsiders in the $250,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap. His other choice was to keep her home, where she would be among the top contenders in Saturday's $75,000 Marshua's River Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

In the end, McGaughey opted for the lesser purse but easier spot in the 1 1/16-mile Marshua's River, which drew a full and evenly matched field of 12 filly and mare turf specialists, plus two also-eligibles.

would have had to face Snowdrops, among others, in the Bayou Breeders' Cup. La Reina finished second, a half-length behind Snowdrops, five weeks ago in the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap at Calder.

"I thought about going for the bigger purse in Louisiana, but once I saw the nominations I decided to stay here," said McGaughey. "I figured it was better to be one of the nuts here instead of trying to beat the nuts out there."

La Reina, who will be retired and bred to Giant's Causeway in the spring, closed out her 2005 campaign with a series of solid efforts, although none resulted in victory. Along with her performance in the My Charmer, La Reina also finished second and third in a pair of restricted stakes in New York, and fourth, only two lengths behind Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Intercontinental, in Keeneland's Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy.

"She's been running well, and it's frustrating she doesn't have a win to show for it," said McGaughey. "I thought she ran a very good race at Calder. And the way she's been training here on dirt, I might even think about trying her on the main track before she leaves to be bred this spring."

, who has not started since winning Belmont's Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap on May 22, may be the slight favorite, with jockey Jerry Bailey taking the call for trainer Tom Albertrani. Sauvage won an allowance race over this course last winter.

Other key contenders include My Lordship and Brunilda, first and second in an overnight stakes at Calder on Dec. 18; ; Asti; and Miss Mambo, if she can draw in off the also-eligible list.

Saturday's card will also showcase some promising 3-year-old talent, including trainer Nick Zito's undefeated Fabled, who competes under second-level allowance conditions in the fourth race. His competition will include Saint Daimon, winner of Aqueduct's Huntington Stakes in his 2-year-old finale. Saint Daimon wheels right back off a sixth-place finish in last Saturday's Aventura Stakes.