07/03/2002 11:00PM

It's Mimi's time of year

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - One year ago, Mimi's Cafe was the one to beat in the Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap at the Alameda County Fair.

She won the $50,000-added, 1 1/16-mile race with ease as the even-money favorite.

She will try to defend her crown Saturday, but this year she won't be the overwhelming favorite.

Mimi's Cafe has won 7 of 32 starts with six seconds and three thirds while earning $382,137.

She was at the top of her game last summer, winning three stakes and finishing second in two others. But in racing as in other sports, the question is always: What have you done lately?

"She just tailed off," trainer Terry Knight said. "We used her pretty hard during the summer."

The problem was that Mimi's Cafe tries so hard and is such a willing worker that it was hard to tell she was tailing off.

"She was running so good. She was very consistent," Knight said. "She's really honest. She's got her limitations. She's a cut or two below the top horses, but when she's doing good, she gives you everything she's got."

Following her win in the $100,000 Las Madrinas Handicap at Fairplex last year, Mimi's Cafe ran fourth in the Hillsdale Handicap on the turf at Bay Meadows and followed that with another fourth in the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron at Santa Anita.

Knight slowed down a bit, giving the 5-year-old Mimi's Cafe two months off before running her in the $100,000 Work the Crowd Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 5. She finished last, beaten 20 3/4 lengths.

Knight was willing to excuse the race.

"It was raining, and the grass was real soggy," he said. "She ran poorly, but she'd been training well and came out of the race okay."

She continued to train well so Knight entered her in a Jan. 24 allowance race. Mimi's Cafe finished sixth as the 7-5 favorite, running "stale and flat," and Knight knew it was time for a break.

He took her to his ranch in Castro Valley for a freshening.

"I had the luxury of having her at my place where I saw her every day," he said. "I didn't have a timetable. I watched her, and she was progressing and wanting to do more."

Mimi's Cafe returned to action in the May 27 Palo Alto Handicap on the turf at Bay Meadows, running a solid third behind runaway winner Lindsay Jean, who will be one of her six rivals today.

Knight was pleased with the comeback race and now is hoping Mimi's Cafe will run as well as she did last summer.

"We freshened her up and aim to have the same kind of campaign as last summer," he said.

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