07/27/2006 12:00AM

Miss Rainier faces stakes-proven foes


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Canadian-bred Miss Rainier caught trainer Tony Diaz's eye the first time she ran at Bay Meadows earlier this year. When she ran a month later at Golden Gate Fields for a claiming price, he quickly put in a $25,000 claim and has been richly rewarded since. The filly has a victory, two seconds, and a third-place finish in four starts after the claim.

On Saturday, Diaz will give her a tough test in the $50,000 Luther Burbank Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at the Sonoma County Fair.

Miss Rainier, second in a stakes at Hastings as a 3-year-old last year, will be meeting the stakes winners Secret Corsage, Bond Deal, and Eleanor Rose, who will try to go wire to wire in the field of eight fillies and mares.

"It looks like there's early speed in the race," Diaz said. "I think there will be enough speed that she'll be able to sit third or fourth behind the leaders."

Miss Rainier has tried the turf twice since joining the Diaz barn, finishing second in her grass debut against allowance company and then winning an $80,000 optional claimer on turf June 17 in her last start.

"She's really working the way we want," said Diaz, who had regular rider Roberto Gonzalez aboard for a six-furlong 1:14.40 drill on July 16 followed by a 1:01 five-furlong work Sunday.

Diaz liked the 4-year-old's breeding when he claimed her.

Miss Rainier's sire, Stephanotis, was a Canadian graded stakes winner who finished second in the Queen's Plate and third in the Woodbine Million. Her dam, Rainier County, was also a stakes winner.

Although neither sire nor dam ran on turf, Diaz said he thought Miss Rainier would like the surface, and he was proven correct.

"This looks like a really good spot to find out how good she is," Diaz said.

Miss Rainier will have to catch Eleanor Rose. Eleanor Rose won the $100,000 Work the Crowd in wire-to-wire style earlier this year and set the pace in the Grade 3 Yerba Buena before fading late.

In her last start, Eleanor Rose sat back early in the Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap. She made a big move into the second turn but was caught by Sky Dreams.

Tight Circle and Secret Corsage have the speed to keep Eleanor Rose honest and give Miss Rainier a chance late.