02/01/2010 1:00AM

Proviso primed to get over Grade 1 hump

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Barbara D. Livingston
Proviso, working before the Nov. 6 Ladies' Classic, returns Sunday in the Santa Monica.

PHOENIX - When Proviso came from Europe last fall, she had placed in Group 1 stakes, including a third to the marvelous Goldikova in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild in August. She'd also been fifth against males in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan last May, finishing ahead of Goldikova. There was no doubting her quality. The next step was to make her a Grade 1 winner in the U.S.

Well, that took only about 1:49 when she won the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 11. Trouble is, her status as a Grade 1 winner only lasted a bit longer than it took her to run the race - she was disqualified to second for swerving out in the lane. It was probably the right call, but it was too bad for her because she was the best horse.

Then, for a moment it looked as though she had remedied that situation again. Without Zenyatta to worry about in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 6, she stalked the pace and swooped to the lead into the lane. But she couldn't sustain her run, finishing fourth behind winner Life Is Sweet.

Sunday provides another chance for Proviso to scratch "Grade 1 winner" off her list of things to do. She looks like a perfect fit for Santa Anita's $250,000 Santa Monica at seven furlongs.

Her list of trainers reads like a Who's Who: Andre Fabre in Europe, then Bobby Frankel in those two U.S. starts, and now Bill Mott. By all indications, she has flourished since the Breeders' Cup.

A 5-year-old mare owned by Juddmonte Farms, Proviso has worked in stellar fashion the last month and a half or so, including a couple of bullets, most notably a 49.20-second move for a half-mile around the dogs at Santa Anita on Jan. 26. That's notable since Mott isn't really one to hammer down on his horses in the mornings.

While Proviso ran 1 1/8 miles in the Spinster and the Ladies' Classic, her strong mile form in Europe indicates this seven-furlong trip should be right in her wheelhouse, particularly at Santa Anita, where the Pro-Ride surface often plays like turf. Unlike retired stablemate Ventura, who won the Santa Monica last year for Frankel and Juddmonte and who would take back and bide her time, Proviso seems to have a bit more early foot. She won't be left with as much to do and can get into the race a bit earlier.

That could be critical. While there is no Ventura, Informed Decision, or Indian Blessing to worry about, it's not as if the others are a bunch of pushovers. Evita Argentina is undoubtedly a seven-furlong specialist, and she figures to be rolling in the lane. Her last four wins have come at seven furlongs: the Moccasin at Hollywood Park in November 2008, the Grade 2 San Vicente against males here last Feb. 16, the Grade 2 A Gleam at Hollywood July 18, and the Grade 1 La Brea on this track. She figures to again sit back and come with a powerful run.

Proviso may well need that ability to get first run and her European finish to keep Evita Argentina at bay.

Free Flying Soul will try it from the other side - with speed. She ran a marvelous race in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at this trip Nov. 6, setting the pace and finishing third behind top-class runners Informed Decision and Ventura. She then won the six-furlong Winter at Hollywood on Dec. 4 and won the

6 1/2-furlong Kalookan Queen at Santa Anita on Jan. 3.

It's a combination of weapons that Proviso brings to the table. She has tactical speed. She can produce a strong finish. She should like the distance. She's proven on this track. She boasts more than enough class. Sounds like the only thing missing is that Grade 1 win. She can remedy that Sunday.