03/16/2004 1:00AM

Mambo Slew out to win prep


ARCADIA, Calif. - The China Doll Stakes is an overnight race with a mere $70,000 purse. So when graded stakes winner Mambo Slew faces nine other 3-year-old fillies in the mile turf race Thursday at Santa Anita, wise guys will scheme to beat her.

has won three straight, including two stakes, and enters as the class of the field. But with big money on the horizon, there is little reason for Mambo Slew to be fully cranked. Trainer Patrick Biancone recognizes the dilemma. "It's not the main objective, but I will be very disappointed if she does not win," he said.

So will bettors. Mambo Slew will start favored Thursday in an overnight stakes that marks the resumption of the turf season for 3-year-old fillies. Mambo Slew already has established herself as the top member of her division, having won the Grade 3 Miesque in the fall at Hollywood, followed by a minor stakes win in her most recent start, on Jan. 14. Like many others, her long-range plan includes the Grade 1 American Oaks on July 3 at Hollywood.

"She seems to be one of the best in the country at a mile on turf," Biancone said. Yet the division has strengthened since Mambo Slew's most recent win. On Thursday she faces a host of new shooters, including , a Group 3 winner making her first U.S. start for trainer Bobby Frankel. Gracefully won three of four last year in England, and the conditions of the China Doll allow her a seven-pound weight advantage (115-122) over Mambo Slew.

The conditions of the race penalize starters who have won races at a mile or longer. Gracefully's three wins came at seven furlongs or less, hence the weight break. Gracefully will be no big secret; bettors expect Frankel trainees to fire first start back, and with leading jockey Alex Solis up, Gracefully's odds will not be dramatically different from Mambo Slew's. Mambo Slew is owned by Frank Manganero; Gracefully is owned by John and Jerry Amerman.

Trainer Jim Cassidy starts three in the China Doll, including the entry of Bettys Tribute and Ticker Tape. Ticker Tape is the stronger half of the entry - in both of her U.S. starts, she finished second to Mambo Slew. The Cassidy-trained Fortunately stretches out after a solid third in the 6 1/2-furlong La Habra. The other starters are Vino Tinto, Shake Off, Penny's Fortune, Yingyingying, and Amorama.

* The first 2-year-old race of the season drew 11 starters. The two-furlong race for California-breds goes as race 1, and includes Turf Paradise-based Smoke Magic and locally based Shermanthetank.