07/31/2001 11:00PM

Paseana: Now she belongs to ages

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Sid Craig knows how Richard Williams must feel, bracing for that inevitable day when Venus and Serena meet on Centre Court for the title at Wimbledon.

Craig was faced with such a scene during the summer of 1994 at Del Mar, when it became clear, with an eighth of a mile to run, that his cherished mares Exchange and Paseana were destined for a one-two sweep. A dead-heat was possible, so closely matched were their strides. But it was far more likely that one of them would win, which meant the other one had to lose. "I think I was probably leaning a little more toward Paseana," Craig admitted. "Exchange was great, but she didn't have the kind of record that Paseana had. I knew Paseana had a chance to be considered one of the great ones of all time, and that she could someday be a part of what's happening this week at Saratoga."

Craig was right. The dream came true, and on Monday, in Saratoga Springs, Paseana will be enshrined alongside Gallorette, Susan's Girl, Ruffian, Shuvee, Regret, and the other mares whose names are cast in bronze at the Racing Hall of Fame.

Figuring out that Paseana belongs in the Hall of Fame was a fairly simple task. In addition to her Breeders' Cup Distaff victory and 12 other major North American stakes wins, she is one of only three mares to earn consecutive national championships since 1938. The others were Shuvee in 1970-71 and Bayakoa in 1989-90. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

Like Bayakoa, Paseana was an Argentine import trained by Ron McAnally who won nearly every race of significance for her division. Beyond that, the similarities end.

Bayakoa was a wild-eyed, buck-toothed hussy who ran as if being pursued by hungry lions. Paseana cut a more peaceful figure, both in action and repose. She was content to let others lead, apparently secure in the knowledge that it was the second time around that counted more than the first.

Still, Paseana was not opposed to the occasional show of force. Her four-length victory over Versailles Treaty in the 1992 BC Distaff at Gulfstream was breathtaking. Her back-to-back wins in the Apple Blossom were both by daylight. Her final victory, at the age of 8, came at the expense of the talented Pirate's Revenge in the 1995 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Craig looks back on the Paseana years with few regrets. Earnings of $3.1 million can soften a lot of tough losses. But there was the 1993 Breeders' Cup Distaff in which his mare was beaten a nose by Hollywood Wildcat. There was the 1993 Santa Margarita, in which Chris McCarron dropped a rein and Southern Truce beat Paseana by a head. And there was the 1992 Pacific Classic, the only time Paseana ran against males, when she failed as the favorite. "If those three races had come out different, she would have been the all-time leading money-winner among fillies and mares," Craig noted.

After making his fortune in the weight loss industry, alongside his wife, Jenny, Sid Craig dove headfirst into horse racing and made it look easy. "I got lucky during that early stage when I also had Exchange and Dr. Devious," said Craig, referring to the colt who won the Epsom Derby. "I thought it was an easy game. But sometimes that's a curse. The game is getting even with me now."

Craig laughed. He knew no one would be offering much sympathy, not when he was about to travel from his home in Rancho Santa Fe, not far from his Rancho Paseana training center, to Saratoga Springs for the unveiling of Paseana's Hall of Fame plaque.

"Everybody should have one Paseana," Craig said.

Of course, there was always a chance Paseana could reproduce herself at some point. But something happened. For four long years, after Paseana retired, she was unable to conceive. Eventually she was sent back to Argentina, where Dr. Ignacio Pavlowsky, the veterinarian and noted bloodstock advisor, made Paseana his personal project. Finally, in the fall of 1999, Paseana was pronounced in foal to the stallion Lode. When she delivered a healthy filly last summer, the announcement was hailed in Argentina as a royal birth.

"Here, it was maybe a line or two in a racing magazine," Craig said. "In Argentina, though, she's as popular as Seabiscuit. The birth of the foal made the CNN of Argentina. People were celebrating.

"The foal looks just like Paseana," Craig added. "I've got tape of them running together. It's very rare for a foal to pass its mother, but this one does, she's that precocious."

She'd better be. Her name is Paseana's Girl.