04/10/2003 11:00PM

Major Idea still one to beat

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Higher purses usually attract tougher competition. But in the turf division for 3-year-old fillies, the song remains the same. A field of six entered the $150,000 Providencia Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita, where Major Idea finds herself in a familiar role as overwhelming favorite.

Major Idea will seek her third stakes win of the meet in the 1 1/8-mile Providencia. Her main rivals are the entry of Star Vega and Katdogawn, plus impressive maiden winner Makeup Artist. The longshots No Kings and Shakes and Shadows are also entered. Regardless of how the race unfolds, Major Idea will have to be dealt with in the stretch.

"She's got a very strong kick, and pace doesn't make any difference," jockey Victor Espinoza said. "She's won on a very slow pace; I let her do what she wants to do. She's not the type you have to rush."

Espinoza has ridden Major Idea in seven of her eight starts, including all four wins. Owned by The Thoroughbred Corporation and trained by Neil Drysdale, Major Idea enters the Providencia having won $194,110 from those eight starts.

Horseplayers trying to fault the chalk might suggest a daughter of Cherokee Run is vulnerable racing nine furlongs. Major Idea, however, is unlike another 3-year-old by Cherokee Run. Whereas the 3-year-old colt Kafwain loses his punch in longer races, Major Idea acts like longer distances will be no trouble. She is racing beyond a mile for the first time Sunday. Her main goal is the $750,000 American Oaks on July 5 at Hollywood Park.

By the time that race is run, Makeup Artist may have emerged as serious threat to Major Idea. Makeup Artist scored one of the most impressive maiden turf wins of the meet Jan. 9, when she won by two lengths in fast (1:34.84) time. That was more than three months ago. Quarter cracks derailed her campaign, and trainer John Shirreffs admits entering the Providenica off a training pattern that is less than ideal.

"It's a mile and an eighth, and she hasn't run in a long time," Shirreffs noted, adding, "obviously we would have liked to have chosen an easier spot."

None was available, and Shirreffs was forced into the stakes. Bettors, however, might not want to sell Makeup Artist short.

"She's big, she's strong, and she looks like a colt," Shirreffs said. "She's had a lot of long gallops, and she's a pretty amazing athlete."

Star Vega is expected to improve after a fast-finishing second to Major Idea. The race was the first U.S. start for Star Vega, trained by Jim Cassidy.