11/06/2003 12:00AM

Roberta's Mango targeted this race


ARCADIA, Calif. - The weather may be as big of a factor as pace or current form in Saturday's $150,000 California Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

A threat of rain could lead to the transfer of the race from about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf to 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track.

Either way, there is no shortage of contenders in a field of 14.

On turf, Del Mar stakes winners Centerofattention and Roberta's Mango, the versatile Blind Ambition, and pacesetters Icantgoforthat and Grant Marty a Wish rank among the leading contenders.

If the race is run on the main track, Blind Ambition and Icantgoforthat would still be effective, but they would have to overcome an early challenge from Princess V or a late run from Tucked Away.

Roberta's Mango has been pointed for this race throughout the year. Trained by Julio Canani for Lucky Ladies Stable, Roberta's Mango is the 120-pound highweight, largely because of her win in the Daisycutter Handicap over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 1. But in her return, she finished a dull seventh in the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, never threatening the leaders.

Canani blames himself for the loss.

"I backed off after she won that stakes at Del Mar and she probably wasn't cranked up," Canani said. "Those were tough fillies last time and she ran to the quarter pole and flattened out. It was better to run there than to keep training her. After that race, she's done very well."

Canani has not ruled out a start on the main track for Roberta's Mango. Ideally for Roberta's Mango, the Distaff would remain on turf, allowing her to utilize an effective turn of foot.

"There is speed in there," Canani said. "She has tactical speed and can be where we want her to be."

That assumes Roberta's Mango, 4, can catch her older sister, Bold Roberta, 5, who is trying for her third consecutive stakes win, having won the Pio Pico Stakes and Las Madrinas Handicap at Fairplex Park. Bold Roberta has yet to win in four starts on the Santa Anita hillside turf course.

The turf would suit Centerofattention, the upset winner of the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 1.

But Centerofattention did beat maidens over 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt at Santa Anita in March 2002.

"I'd probably go on the dirt but we'd have to see," trainer Eric Kruljac said. "If it was a rock-hard sealed racetrack I wouldn't run. Hopefully, the rain will hold.

"I like the downhill race. I think we'll be five or six lengths off the front. There is a ton of speed in there."

A quick-paced scenario could pose problems for Icantgoforthat and Grant Marty a Wish. Icantgoforthat won the Survive Stakes in January, but is winless in her last nine starts, a span that includes third-place finishes in the Maddy and Las Cienegas Handicap on the hillside. Grant Marty a Wish was 13th in the 2002 Distaff and has yet to win a stakes in 12 starts.

Princess V, third in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4, could be part of the pace, which would help Blind Ambition and Tucked Away. Blind Ambition has never been worse than second and has a quick rally that has been effective on turf and dirt.

Tucked Away has never started on turf. In July, she won the Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar.