01/02/2003 12:00AM

Pro or Con just a prep for 'Pursuit'


ARCADIA, Calif. - Nicole's Pursuit risks a two-race winning streak in Saturday's $100,000 Pro or Con Handicap at Santa Anita, but the Pro or Con is not the big race that trainer Craig Lewis considers the focus of her January campaign.

Nicole's Pursuit is being pointed to the $350,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25, and the Pro or Con Handicap over a mile on turf is a lucrative prep.

"There is a little bigger piece of the pie down the road," Lewis said. "I've got her good enough to win, but I left a little in the tank."

In the last 12 months, Nicole's Pursuit has developed rapidly for Lewis and her owners - the Flying A Farms of Allan Fainbarg and Arnold Feuerstein. A 4-year-old, Nicole's Pursuit was an unraced maiden at the start of 2002, and she capped her 12-race campaign with a nose victory in the California Cup Distaff Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf on Nov. 2.

Following that race, Lewis set a goal of trying to win the Pro or Con and the Sunshine Millions with Nicole's Pursuit. In the Pro or Con Handicap, Nicole's Pursuit is a top contender against seven other California-bred fillies and mares. Shalini, second to Nicole's Pursuit in the California Cup, is making her first start in two months. Elaine's Angel, who lost to Horse of the Year hopeful Azeri in three races in 2002, will attempt to win her first stakes in her 27th start. Top of Our Game is trying to end an eight-race losing streak, dating back to the 2001 Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar.

Nicole's Pursuit can lead, but is more likely to stalk the pace of Jenna's Joy, who is coming out of sprints. In the California Cup, Nicole's Pursuit closed from fifth to just catch Shalini on the line.

About the only drawback facing Lewis and jockey Kent Desormeaux is Nicole Pursuit's draw on the outside of the field.

"She's very handy, and I think we can be wherever we want to be," Lewis said.

The reduction in distance from 1 1/4 miles to a mile does not concern Lewis.

"I think she's a little fresher, and I've honed on her a little more," he said. "She's got a lot of natural speed.

"I think there is a misconception that people don't think that horses can back up [in distance]. But if they're naturally gifted with speed and athleticism, I don't think it will be a problem."