08/26/2002 11:00PM

Mandella's latest a mystery

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DEL MAR, Calif. - They have come from Argentina, and Brazil, and Chile. Now trainer Richard Mandella is working his way down the alphabet in acquiring horses from South American nations. On Thursday at Del Mar, he will send out La Tizona, who was bred in Kentucky but has done all of her racing in Peru, which, despite being the native country of trainer Julio Canani, is better known for the Andes than its horses.

La Tizona compiled an admirable record in Peru. She was second in that country's 1000 Guineas, captured another Group 1 race, then was third against males in the Peruvian Derby. But how that form compares to racing in South American countries considered to have superior racing, let alone how it compares with the quality of the horses she will face here, is a mystery.

"She's been training well," Becky Witzman, Mandella's top assistant, said Tuesday morning. "She's trained awesome. She's had some pretty nice works. She's a little high-strung, but she wants to train."

La Tizona has won three times in six starts and never has finished out of the money. She has turned in a steady series of drills for her North American racing debut. She had four consecutive works at six furlongs, and most recently worked twice at seven furlongs, including a bullet drill on Aug. 20. Mandella needed to give her a solid foundation. La Tizona has not raced in nearly 14 months.

The featured seventh race, at one mile, is for older fillies and mares who are eligible to a second-level allowance condition, or are in for a $62,500 claiming price. Of the seven in the race, only two - Hazen and Shy Patada - are eligible to be claimed.

The one to catch is Cee's Elegance, who narrowly lost at this level in her last start after setting a sharp early pace. She again figures to clear this field, though she has a habit of settling for minor prizes. Cee's Elegance has three wins in 22 starts, but has finished second or third 11 times.

American Czarina overcame traffic trouble to beat a first-level allowance field at Hollywood Park in her last start. Patrick Valenzuela, the meet's leading rider, remains with American Czarina. Valenzuela also rode Cee's Elegance last time out.

Nicky's Intuition also beat a first-level allowance field, at Del Mar on Aug. 4. Both of her lifetime wins have been at this track. Nicky's Intuition overcame a slow start to win last time, but a hot pace flattered her late rally.