03/14/2007 11:00PM

La Tormenta a hillside natural


ARCADIA, Calif. - With Cambiocorsa having been retired, the queen of the hill has abdicated her throne. Cambiocorsa was the undisputed queen of Santa Anita's hillside turf course, over which she won several stakes, including last year's Irish O'Brien Stakes. Six older California-bred fillies and mares are signed up for this year's $125,000 Irish O'Brien on Saturday, and though River's Prayer and Gn. Group Meeting are the most accomplished of the group, La Tormenta is an intriguing alternative, most notably because of her aptitude over the tricky 6 1/2-furlong turf course.

La Tormenta has won four straight races, three over this course, including a comeback win on Feb. 15 in her first start since moving to the barn of trainer Peter Miller.

"She loves the hill," Miller said Thursday. "She's very fast. She's small, but she has a tremendous heart."

La Tormenta was off for 10 months before her victory last month. Miller said he has had her for only 2 1/2 months. She was sidelined with an injury before he picked her up.

"I thought she'd run well last time, but I didn't think she'd run quite that well," Miller said. "I hope she can duplicate that effort, or move forward."

River's Prayer won the California Cup Distaff on this course in October, but has not beaten a horse in two starts since. Those races were going long on turf and sprinting on dirt, both against Grade 1 company. A class drop, and freshening, should be beneficial.

Gn. Group Meeting had a rough trip in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 27. She needs a hot pace to set up her late run.

Bettersweetmoment is another top contender. She has won three straight races, including one on the hillside course, since being claimed for $25,000 by trainer Steve Knapp.

Becerra remembers Jones

Trainer Rafael Becerra got his first job at the racetrack at age 16 for trainer Farrell Jones in 1970, then worked for Jones's son, Gary, before going out on his own. He will saddle Dee Rain in the San Felipe Stakes on Saturday, but on Thursday morning remembered the hard-nosed trainer who gave him his start.

"He was tough, but he was a good man," Becerra said. "He had a good heart."

Dee Rain was second to San Felipe runner Level Red in a first-level allowance race on Feb.o18.

"We're taking a shot," Becerra said. "He's been improving since he broke his maiden, and with more distance, he should be better."

Solis restrained on Hall chances

Alex Solis was one of three jockeys named on Thursday as finalists for this year's Hall of Fame ballot, but he was keeping his emotions in check after last year, when Solis was considered the front-runner but did not get the required 75 percent of the vote.

That rule, which had been in effect for two years, was scrapped after failing to produce any jockey inductees in 2005 and 2006. This year, the jockey inductee will be whoever receives the most votes among Solis, Randy Romero, and Jose Santos.

"I got myself very excited last year, but I was crushed," Solis said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. "I'm too old to have these letdowns. I'm flattered to be nominated, to be one of the finalists."

Solis was a finalist for the first time last year.

Horseshoe contest revived

The St. Patrick's horseshoe pitching contest, once a March 17 tradition at Santa Anita, is being brought back on Saturday and will reward $1 million to anyone who can toss a ringer on their only try.

Twenty fans will have their names drawn to compete. Anyone who comes within 10 feet of the stick will win $1,000. If no one tosses a ringer, whoever comes closest will win $5,000.

Horse Greeley works for return

Horse Greeley, last year's winner of the Del Mar Futurity, worked an easy three furlongs in 38.20 seconds on Wednesday at Hollywood Park for trainer Richard Mandella, who said the colt is about "six or eight weeks away" from running.

"He had a couple of quarter-mile breezes before this," Mandella said. "Now he'll be on a regular pattern."

Horse Greeley has not raced since being injured in the Norfolk Stakes during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

* Retired trainer Bob Sinne died Monday at his home in San Dimas, Calif., after a long illness. He was 86.

* Dixie Meister, preparing for a start in Dubai in the Godolphin Mile, worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Thursday morning at Santa Anita for trainer Julio Canani. David Flores was aboard for the work, and has the mount in Dubai. Dixie Meister leaves on Tuesday.

* Becrux, last year's winner of the Woodbine Mile, worked three furlongs in 39.40 seconds on Thursday morning at Hollywood Park for trainer Neil Drysdale.