11/01/2001 12:00AM

Jeweled Pirate looks ready to roll


ARCADIA, Calif. - Fourteen fillies and mares will scream down the hill in the $150,000 California Cup Distaff (race 6) on Saturday at Santa Anita, including a filly who enters the 6 1/2-furlong turf race as possibly the most profitable gamble on the Cal Cup card.

Jeweled Pirate, second start back and training like her old self, meets a field with more quantity than quality. Contenders include co-highweight Dusty Heather, unraced since July and making her first start since changing barns; co-highweight Fair Apache, compromised by the likelihood of a contested pace; and Global, who is not coming up the race as well as her connections hoped she would.

Conversely, Jeweled Pirate is "coming into it as good as I can get her," trainer Ray Bell said. "She's doing very well" and has had the benefit of a comeback race. "She's loving what she's doing." Perhaps, now more than ever.

Jeweled Pirate, a 4-year-old by Pirate's Bounty, has won four of 10 for owners Robert and Betty Irvin. Jeweled Pirate won a maiden race in her fourth start, then three of of her next five, including a $150,000 stakes in which she defeated subsequent graded winners Lazy Slusan and Rare Charmer. Jeweled Pirate had bone spurs in her knees that were arthroscopically removed afterward, and she returned from an eight-month layoff Oct. 4 with a perfect prep.

Sent off as the 2-1 favorite in a N3X allowance, Jeweled Pirate moved into contention at the head of the lane, then tired midstretch. She ran like the prototypical short horse, which she was. The race, designed as a prep for the Cal Cup, accomplished what Bell and jockey Chris McCarron had hoped. It gave her a foundation on which to build, and sets her up perfectly for the Distaff.

The main question - is she good enough? - was likely answered in February when she beat a good field in the Pro or Con. That race, on turf, was one reason Bell elected to keep her on grass for the Distaff instead of running in the Cal Cup Matron at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. "She really got good when we put her on turf early this year, so we decided to keep her on it."

Jeweled Pirate's speed figures compare well to her rivals, she has enough speed to establish position (she won two of her last three sprints), and can make her own trip. On the other hand, late-running Dusty Heather will need a break somewhere along the way. "With 14 horses, and coming from well off the pace and breaking from the inside, you have to be very lucky," said trainer Hector Palma.

The Distaff will be the first start for Dusty Heather since owner Sam Longo transferred her from John Dolan. Longo, 94, has a small band of broodmares, but his homebred Dusty Heather is his only older horse in training. Longo was part-owner in the Dolan-trained Lazy Slusan, and said he sold Dolan his half-interest in the Grade 1 winner for $200,000 this summer.

Global's third-place finish Sept. 26 in the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap makes her a top contender. The filly's recent works, however, have been less than satisfying. "She's come up to some of her races better than she's coming up to this one," trainer Jack Carava said.

Eighteen runners entered the Distaff, but only 14 will start. Along with 11 separate interests, there will be a three-horse mutuel field.