04/16/2003 11:00PM

Mullins done giving riding advice


ARCADIA, Calif. - A narrow loss by Garden in the Rain in the Santa Ana Handicap March 22 still bothers trainer Jeff Mullins.

Ridden that day by Gary Stevens, Garden in the Rain closed from seventh to miss catching the front-running Noches de Rosa by a half-length.

"I thought she should have won," Mullins said. "Gary thought she'd be good going to the lead. I thought she'd be better laying off of them. If I'd let Gary do what he wanted, she might have won."

Garden in the Rain returns in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap on the turf at Santa Anita. It is doubtful that Mullins will be giving Stevens too much advice.

"The instructions will be, Good luck," Mullins said.

Claimed for $50,000 last October, Garden in the Rain has since won 2 of 6 starts and finished second in two stakes races, including the Buena Vista Handicap at one mile Feb. 17.

Mullins is not concerned about the Santa Barbara distance of 1 1/4 miles, having watched Garden in the Rain win at that distance against $80,000 claimers last October.

Of course, the competition will be stronger in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara, which drew five other fillies or mares - Megahertz, Medinaceli, Noches de Rosa, Notting Hill, and Trekking.

Megahertz and Noches de Rosa carry top weight of 117 pounds, with Garden in the Rain pegged at one pound less. A victory by any of those three would not be a surprise.

The 4-year-old Megahertz has won five stakes races since arriving from France at the end of her 2-year-old campaign, but is winless in her last four starts.

At this meet, Megahertz has finished second in the San Gorgonio Handicap and third in the Santa Ana Handicap, losing each race by three-quarters of a length.

Noches de Rosa has won two consecutive stakes races - the Reloy Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf Jan. 31 and the Santa Ana Handicap at 13-1.

The winning streak marks a turnaround from her form last year when she lost her first five starts after arriving from Chile, where she had won the Group 1 Chilean Oaks in 2001.

The Santa Barbara could be a springboard back to Grade 1 races for Noches de Rosa, trainer Richard Mandella said.

"I've got hopes that she's top class," he said.

One thing that does not concern Mandella is Noches de Rosa's running style. She has won on the lead and as a stalker, which will give jockey Mike Smith options Saturday.