01/16/2009 1:00AM

Millions could be it for Romance Is Diane


ARCADIA, Calif. - Barely a half-hour had gone by after Romance Is Diane sold for $1.35 million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale a few months ago when trainer Mike Mitchell's phone rang.

The caller wondered if Mitchell would resume training Romance Is Diane, a filly the trainer had guided to four stakes wins in 2007 and 2008. The caller was leading breeder, and new owner, Frank Stronach.

"He asked me if I'd take her," Mitchell said.

There was no hesitation from Mitchell. Stronach already had a goal for Romance Is Diane, the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita next Saturday.

"They gave me enough time to let her get over the sale," Mitchell said between races at Santa Anita on Thursday. "She's just as good and looks great."

Previously owned by breeder Senji Nishimura, Romance Is Diane has won 5 of 16 starts and $712,718. She has won four stakes, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes in 2006 and the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap in 2007. She was winless in five starts as a 4-year-old in 2008, but finished second by a head against males in the $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 5, her most recent start.

Mitchell has trained Romance Is Diane for all but her first start. He hopes the Sunshine Millions Distaff will be her last race.

"I didn't ask what they'll do after that," Mitchell said. "I think she's worth a lot as a broodmare. Breeding season doesn't start until February, so she hasn't missed any time.

"She's been so good to me. I'd love to see them retire her."

Since returning to training after the sale, Romance Is Diane has worked steadily at Hollywood Park. In between workouts she exercises regularly on Hollywood Park's backstretch training track.

"She loves that training track," Mitchell said. "On the main track, she pulls a lot harder. She's been raised on that training track."

Romance Is Diane is the leading California-bred contender for the Distaff, one of the few Sunshine Millions races in which California-breds have a strong roster. Lethal Heat, the winner of the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks, and Bai and Bai, a multiple stakes winner, are other leading hopes for the California-bred team. Lethal Heat was entered in Sunday's El Encino here, but might be scratched to await the Millions. The California-based Dawn After Dawn, the winner of the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes last February, is a leading Distaff contender among Florida-breds.

Zayat sends a few west to Mitchell

Mitchell's stable was the hottest in California on Wednesday and Thursday, winning four races, including three on Wednesday.

Through Thursday, Mitchell had eight wins at the meeting, and was tied for the lead in the trainer standings with John Sadler. Jeff Mullins was third with seven wins.

Sunday, Mitchell starts Dynamalt in the first race, an optional claimer at 1 1/4 miles on turf. Dynamalt is one of nine horses that Mitchell trains for Ahmed Zayat, who has re-established a stable in California this winter after an absence of nearly 18 months.

Dynamalt has 1 victory in 13 starts, all in Canada and the Eastern United States.

"He's training well," Mitchell said. "He's a big, good-looking horse."

Mitchell is hoping that Zayat expands his stable in California.

"They sent me nine well-bred horses and they want to see how I'll do," he said.

Vets refuse to clear Cost of Freedom

Cost of Freedom's chances of starting in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 24 seemed remote on Friday morning after California Horse Racing Board equine medical director Rick Arthur ruled he was "not sound enough to be allowed to race." Cost of Freedom was to get another shot at being allowed to run on Saturday, when he was scheduled to work five furlongs before state veterinarians.

Cost of Freedom, who won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes in September, has been on the racing board veterinarian's list for unsoundness since he was scratched from the Breeders' Cup Sprint on the morning of the Oct. 25 race. When Cost of Freedom failed to pass a vet's examination after a November workout, owner Gary Barber sought legal remedies to have the horse removed from the list.

Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied Barber's petition to have Cost of Freedom removed from the vet's list, but said that racing veterinarians must observe the gelding walking and jogging on the racetrack within five days. Barber said the intention of his legal action was to have the horse observed by veterinarians on the racetrack and not just at the barn.

The observation took place at about 9:30 a.m. Friday. Cost of Freedom walked and then jogged in front of Arthur before galloping a mile.

"I don't think there has been any change," Arthur said. "The issue we have to deal with is not just Cost of Freedom. It's all the other jockeys and horses in the race."

Husbands gets first win of meet

Canadian jockey Patrick Husbands won his first race of the Santa Anita meeting on Thursday aboard Forster Hall in the third race.

Husbands, 35, will be based at Santa Anita until April when he returns to Woodbine. He will be closely allied with Woodbine-based trainer Mark Casse, for whom he rode Forster Hall.

Husbands won the 2008 Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding jockey. Sunday at Santa Anita, he rides Pool Play in the first race, and Safety Zone in the third race. Both horses are trained by Casse.

* Believe in Hope, third in the Norfolk Stakes in September, has been turned out, essentially ending any chance of participating in the major stakes for 3-year-olds in coming months. Trainer Ron Ellis said that Believe in Hope is "just not acting right. I'll give him some time to recoup."