06/03/2002 11:00PM

Lots to like in Reine de Romance

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - By the time she made her ninth start of the year, last fall at Keeneland, Reine de Romance was a tired filly.

"She'd gone pretty hard all year," said trainer Jenine Sahadi. Reine de Romance made her United States debut in January, did not win until May, but by late July was a graded stakes winner. It was a long year, one in which she won three of nine races and emerged as one of the top turf fillies of California. After finishing sixth in a Grade 1 at Keeneland, it was time for her to unwind.

Reine de Romance got nearly seven months off, returned with a fourth-place finish May 9, and Thursday at Hollywood Park makes her second start back. This time, Sahadi hopes things go according to plan. They did not in Reine de Romance's comeback.

A stalker who won the Grade 2 San Clemente last summer at Del Mar, Reine de Romance found herself in unfamiliar territory in her comeback. That is, setting the pace. Favored at 2-1, Reine de Romance set a faster-than-par pace and tired to fourth. On Thursday, Kent Desormeaux rides Reine de Romance for the first time, and if the 4-year-old reproduces last year's form, she will be tough to beat in a three-other-than turf allowance at one mile that is the second race on the card.

"She's really good," Sahadi said. "Desormeaux breezed her Sunday, and she went terrific. Hopefully she'll run here, then the Royal Heroine," a Grade 3 on July 6, "then down to Del Mar." Owned by Team Valor Stables, Reine de Romance faces four others: Paddy Gallagher-trained Angel Gift and Catz; pacesetter Stormy Society; and longshot Brocky's Dream. On paper, Reine de Romance should not miss.

* In race 7, a three-other-than/ optional $80,000 claimer on dirt, 4-year-old gelding Truly a Judge will try to hold off Dig for It at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Three others entered the race: Slewston, Hadrian's Wall, and Futural, who has run four straight bad races since crossing the wire first only to be disqualified in the Hollywood Gold Cup last summer.

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