02/11/2002 12:00AM

New era begins for a classy pair

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Skip to the Stone and Senora Claudia won stakes on opposite sides of the Americas last year. Wednesday at Santa Anita, they start for new trainers in allowance races that could lead to starts in stakes.

Skip to the Stone, the winner of the Baldwin Stakes and Bay Shore Stakes last year, is the likely favorite in the third race, a $57,000 allowance race/optional claimer over six furlongs.

Wednesday's race is the 4-year-old Skip to the Stone's debut for trainer Bob Baffert and first start since he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Stakes at Hollywood Park last May for Mike Mitchell.

Skip to the Stone faces five others, including Early Flyer.

A 4-year-old trained by Ron McAnally, Early Flyer was second in the De Francis Memorial Dash last November at Laurel, but has lost his last two starts as the favorite, finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 and third in an allowance race on Jan. 13.

Senora Claudia makes her U.S. debut following an unbeaten record in three races in Chile. The 4-year-old Senora Claudia is trained by Eduardo Inda, and has been with his stable since September.

She starts in a wide-open $57,000 allowance race over seven furlongs, which will be her first start since winning a Group 1 over 7 1/2 furlongs in Chile last June.

"That was why we bought her," Inda said.

Owned by Barry Schwartz, Senora Claudia faces a field that includes Song of Summer, the runner-up in the Survive Stakes on Jan. 2, and Ivory Tower, a Group 1 winner from Argentina who bled in her U.S. debut at Hollywood Park in December.

Trained by McAnally, Ivory Tower was third in the Corona Handicap behind Kalookan Queen, who subsequently won the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap. Ivory Tower and Senora Claudia are likely to stalk Secret Liaison, an allowance race winner on Jan. 24.

Inda said Senora Claudia has impressed him in recent workouts, including a half-mile in 46.60 seconds on Jan. 18, the fastest of 44 works at the distance. Inda expects Senora Claudia to be close to the pace.

"She had a couple of so-so works and a couple of good works," Inda said. "In the last month, they've been good."

Wednesday's seventh race also marks the return of Hugh Hefner, who finished eighth in the 2000 Belmont Stakes in his last start. A 5-year-old, Hugh Hefner starts in a $54,000 allowance race/optional claimer on the hillside turf course.

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