11/13/2007 1:00AM

One last try for Argentina

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Argentina has spent the last year and a half knocking heads with the best turf fillies in America, with mixed results. Although she finished second or third in three Grade 1 races, the Irish-bred 5-year-old mare has gone winless in her nine starts - all carrying a Grade 1 or 2 ranking - since being imported from France.

What would appear to be a final chance for Argentina to become a graded stakes winner will come Saturday when she goes to the post as the 120-pound highweight in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs.

"We're just trying to get a graded stakes win out of her," trainer Bobby Frankel said Tuesday from California. "She's been Grade 1-placed so many times, but it would still increase her value if we can get this done."

Win or lose, Frankel said owner Bob McNair of Stonerside Stable is inclined to retire Argentina after the $150,000 Cardinal, a 1 1/8-mile turf race expected to get about 10 fillies and mares.

"If she wins, we'll definitely retire her," said Frankel. "Even if she gets beat, she'll still probably be done."

Argentina most recently finished ninth after forcing the pace in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf over a waterlogged Monmouth Park turf course.

"She shouldn't have been that close up anyway," said Frankel. "Leaving there, she was wanting to do it. The plan for Saturday will be to cover her up and make one run."

Julien Leparoux has picked up the mount on Argentina.

Besides Argentina, the Cardinal field is expected to include Criminologist, Quiet Royal, Candy Ball, Love Handles, Nottawasaga, Mama I'm Home, Jade Queen, and probably two or three other fillies and mares.

Smitty's Sunshine doing what she does best

Smitty's Sunshine, the speedy Louisiana-bred specializing in turf sprints, will be favored Sunday in the $100,000 Mariah's Storm at five furlongs on the turf.

Trained by Morris Nicks, Smitty's Sunshine will be making her first start since having a six-race win streak snapped when third as the favorite in the $250,000 Distaff Turf Sprint Championship at Calder on Aug. 11. The 4-year-old filly has won 7 of 12 starts and nearly $400,000.

"She's training really well," said Nicks, who, for the moment, is based at the Trackside training center and will move to Fair Grounds for the winter.

After Sunday, the usual lucrative conclusion comes to the fall meet, with the $300,000 Falls City Handicap on Nov. 22 and the $500,000 Clark Handicap on Nov. 23 anchoring the final four-day stretch. Closing day is Nov. 24.

Howard's excellent weekend

Trainer Neil Howard enjoyed a memorable Saturday when he won a turf allowance with Save Big Money and a maiden-special race with the regally bred Mambo in Seattle. Howard's longtime Churchill base, Barn 25, also happens to be where New York invader Bit of Whimsy, winner of the Mrs. Revere Stakes on Saturday for trainer Barclay Tagg, was stabled.

"Hey, Barclay brought us some good luck," said Howard.

Mambo in Seattle is a 2-year-old colt by Kingmambo out of Weekend in Seattle, who in turn is out of Weekend Surprise, making her a half-sister to the great A.P. Indy.

* Rafael Bejarano, a perennial favorite among Kentucky fans for the last several years, will ride just one more day at the fall meet. After taking a week of vacation in his native Peru, Bejarano, 25, will begin riding on the Southern California circuit, and then will return here only for closing day.