10/01/2008 11:00PM

Romance Is Diane challenges males


ARCADIA, Calif. - The $250,000 California Cup Classic on Sunday will be the seasonal highlight for one of the eight runners entered. Collectively, the group has not accomplished much this year.

The field of eight has one 2008 stakes winner - Cheroot, the winner of the Daytona Handicap in February who is on a five-race losing streak. Several runners are seeking a first stakes win.

Bold Chieftain, the defending champion, has been entered in the $175,000 California Cup Mile on turf on the same program, which is entirely dedicated to California-bred horses.

Trainer Mike Mitchell has added intrigue to the Classic by entering the multiple stakes-winning filly Romance Is Diane. Owned by Senji Nishimura, Romance Is Diane is trying to become the first female to win the California Cup Classic.

A winner of 5 of 15 starts and $662,718, Romance Is Diane won the 2007 California Cup Matron. This year, she has lost three times in graded stakes to the star older female Zenyatta.

Mitchell debated whether to run Romance Is Diane in the Classic or the $150,000 Matron. He chose the Classic, hoping she can lead throughout the 1 1/8 miles on the main track and win her first stakes since the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park last December.

The absence of a standout has led trainer Doug O'Neill to enter One Chin Again and Mr. Chairman, both of whom are seeking their first stakes wins.

"It's not coming up as tough as the previous California Cup Classics," said O'Neill, who won the race in 2000 with Sky Jack.

Mr. Chairman won his last start, an optional claimer at 1 3/8 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 24, and has won 3 of 6 starts this year after returning from an 18-month layoff in April.

"He's in good form," O'Neill said.

Top This and That would be favored, if this were 2006. That season, he finished second in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes and the Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational. A tendon injury caused a 16-month layoff that ended last February. Although Tap This and That is winless in six starts this year, trainer Dan Hendricks was encouraged by the gelding's second-place finish in a $50,000 claimer at Del Mar in August.

"We've got no reason not to run," Hendricks said. "When he runs his race, he'll be third or better."