03/05/2003 12:00AM

Rhinaa finally faces weaker

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Dan Hendricks has grown tired of sending Rhiana against the leading fillies and mares at Santa Anita.

After watching Rhiana finish second to Printemps in the Paseana Handicap on Jan. 15 and third to Starrer and You in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 16, Hendricks is ducking Sunday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap in favor of a $65,000 allowance race over a mile on turf on Friday.

"I thought it might be a little easier than Sunday's race, but I may be a bad handicapper," said Hendricks, displaying his dry wit.

Even without some of the best older fillies and mares on the grounds, Friday's race has drawn a strong field.

Rhiana faces the streaking Southern Oasis, who has won two consecutive allowance races on turf; Arabic Song, who placed in two graded stakes last year; and Bush Triumph, who was second in the Brown Bess Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 1.

Baldwina, Sea Reel, and Walts Wharf will also start but will be longshots.

The allowance race marks the first time that Rhiana has started on turf at Santa Anita since she finished second in a $40,000 claiming race last November. On that day, she was claimed by Hendricks on behalf of John and Allegra Ernest. Overall, Rhiana has won 2 of 8 starts on turf at Santa Anita and 3 of 19 races in her career. "Her record at Santa Anita is better on turf," Hendricks said. "The turf gives us so many options."

Since being claimed, Rhiana has earned $86,300 in four starts, including a three-length victory on an optional claimer on dirt at Santa Anita on Dec. 31.

Julie Krone rides Rhiana, and is likely to have the mare in a stalking position behind Sea Reel, Southern Oasis, and Walts Wharf.

Sea Reel, who was third in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes in 2002, finished fourth in the Paseana Handicap after leading to midstretch.

Southern Oasis can lead or stalk the pace. She set a quick pace in her victory on Jan. 12, but was allowed to set a slow pace when she beat four rivals by three lengths on Feb. 6.

Walt's Wharf led for much of the Buena Vista Handicap on Feb. 17, but faded late to finish last of six.

A fast pace from those three could help Rhiana.

"If she kicks like she has before, she should be right there," Hendricks said. "I think going a mile they will be honest out front."

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