11/21/2006 12:00AM

Prep win good sign for Sangrita

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There is ample recent precedent for Sangrita to win the Falls City Handicap. Two of the last three Falls City winners also won the local prep, the Churchill Downs Distaff (now the Chilukki Stakes), and after Sangrita scored impressively in the one-mile Chilukki during Breeders' Cup week, she brings forth the look of a major contender Thursday, when the Falls City will be run for the 91st time.

A Grade 2 stakes that highlights a 12-race Thanksgiving Day card, the Falls City carries a $300,000 purse and will be run at 1 1/8 miles. Trainer Michael Matz said he is confident Sangrita will be able to handle the stretchout.

"I've never thought it'd be a problem with her," Matz said Tuesday from his primary base in Maryland, the Fair Hill Training Center, where he was loading horses on a van for the long trip to Florida for the winter.

If Matz is right, and Sangrita defeats the seven other fillies and mares entered, the victory would bookend what has been an unforgettable year for him. Early in the Churchill spring meet, Matz sent out Barbaro to win the 132nd Kentucky Derby.

Sangrita will be trying for the same sweep that Lead Story (2003) and Halory Leigh (2004) pulled off in the Chilukki and Falls City. Bred and owned by Matz's wife, Dorothy Matz, Sangrita was a nonthreatening fifth in her only previous two-turn try, the March 18 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, "but she really didn't handle the track at all that day," said the trainer.

Sangrita is part of an intriguing Falls City field that includes no standout favorite and no rank outsider. Summerly, the 2005 Kentucky Oaks winner, is the 120-pound highweight and might be a slight wagering choice, but all of the others bring forth solid credentials, too. They are Cursora and Ermine, both sharp in recent allowance wins at Churchill; Sea Siren, winner of the Arlington Matron in her last; Joint Effort, a four-time winner at Churchill; Cryptoquip, winner of the Arlington Oaks; and Silmaril, a standout Maryland invader with 10 career wins.

The Falls City kicks off the final three-day weekend of the fall meet. All three cards will consist of 12 races and begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.