11/30/2001 12:00AM

Lazy Slusan, Gourmet Girl in battle

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two California-bred mares are in the thick of the race for the Eclipse Award as the nation's top older filly or mare.

In a season when no mare or 4-year-old filly dominated the division, Gourmet Girl and Lazy Slusan, both of whom won two Grade 1 races during the year, are title contenders. Spain, Printemps, and Chilukki may also attract support. None finished the year with a strong performance that would have left voters with a final, positive impression. That works to the advantage of Gourmet Girl and Lazy Slusan, who were at their best in the spring and summer.

Lazy Slusan won the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita and Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park, but ended the year with three losses. In her final start, she was unplaced in the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland in October. A few weeks later, she sold for $750,000 at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale to Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable.

Lazy Slusan was previously owned by trainer John Dolan, who claimed her along with Sam Longo for $62,500 at Del Mar in July, 2000. Dolan later purchased Longo's share.

Gourmet Girl missed the fall because of a splint bone injury that will keep her away from racing until next year. Earlier this year, she won the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park and won the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, beating Lazy Slusan. (Earlier in the year, Gourmet Girl was fifth behind Lazy Slusan in the Santa Margarita.)

Of the others, Printemps and Spain were beaten in the Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs, while Chilukki was retired earlier in the year.

In an era when the Breeders' Cup is designed to solve many championship questions, the parity in the older filly or mare division has left voters confused. Consequently, a case can be made for both Lazy Slusan and Gourmet Girl.

Lazy Slusan won four of nine starts and $678,980. Although she did not win outside of California, she was a good third in the Apple Blossom and third in the Delaware Handicap.

"I think she's a little less known than Gourmet Girl," Dolan said. "They don't do a split decision, do they?"

Buying a potential champion did not cross bloodstock agent Headley Bell's mind when he purchased the 6-year-old Lazy Slusan on behalf of the Jacksons.

"I wish we were that smart," he said with a laugh.

Bell said he was attracted to Lazy Slusan's bloodlines (Slewvescent-Three Flights Up, by Topsider) and her race record. He said the Jacksons are building a broodmare band to enhance their future racing stable and will breed Lazy Slusan to Deputy Minister next year.

"This fits their program considerably," Bell said.

The 6-year-old Gourmet Girl won three of six starts and $554,950 this year. She was nearly retired last winter, but stayed in training after winning the minor Sacramento Handicap at Golden Gate Fields in March. Following her win the Vanity, she finished second in the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, which turned out to be her final start of 2001.

Owner Gary Tanaka and trainer Pico Perdomo had hoped to start in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but the splint bone injury cost Gourmet Girl a shot at the $2 million race.

"She popped a splint before New York," Perdomo said. "We tried to bring it along, but we decided to stop. In that kind of race, you want to be 110 percent, and she might have only been 90 percent."

Perdomo is hopeful that Gourmet Girl has done enough to impress voters, but is already laying groundwork for 2002. He mentioned the Apple Blossom and Vanity handicaps as early-season goals followed by an assault on the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race that could have cleared up the championship race this year.