01/11/2008 1:00AM

Romance Is Diane or Tough Tiz's Sis?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Romance Is Diane is so sharp now that trainer Mike Mitchell rejects any notion that the addition of seven pounds will prevent her from winning the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita.

"She's doing so well and training so good that I don't think the weight is going to be a factor," Mitchell said.

Romance Is Diane carried 115 when she outran 120-pound topweight Tough Tiz's Sis in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap on Dec. 1 at Hollywood Park.

They meet again Sunday at equal weights (122) in the 1 1/16-mile El Encino, a $150,000 race for 4-year-old fillies with a seven-horse field that includes Zenyatta. A half-sister to Balance, Zenyatta is 2 for 2 following an effortless allowance win Dec. 15 at Hollywood.

The field also includes Fleet Caroline, a front-runner capable of giving Romance Is Diane company. However, Fleet Caroline's trainer, Vladimir Cerin, said his filly needs a race, and would not engage the pacesetter while making her first start in three months.

How much will Fleet Caroline impact the pace? "Not at all," Cerin said. "I want to see her finish."

That leaves the El Encino as a virtual match race between Grade 1 winners Romance Is Diane and Tough Tiz's Sis. Indescribable, Dawn After Dawn, and Hucking Hot are also entered.

Romance Is Diane tailed off after winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet at 2, but returned to form late in her 3-year-old season. She enters the El Encino on a two-race win streak, and has won 5 races and $597,660 from 11 starts for owner Nishimura Senji.

"The ultimate plan is to run her in a Breeders' Cup race here in California," Mitchell said, explaining that Romance Is Diane will race only twice this winter. After Sunday, she goes Feb. 10 in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes, then will be freshened. Michael Baze rides.

Tough Tiz's Sis is reunited with Victor Espinoza, who rode her to a nose victory Oct. 7 in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret at Santa Anita, then rode Balance in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race in which Tough Tiz's Sis finished seventh.

She returned to form finishing second in the Bayakoa. Trainer Bob Baffert would not use the five-pound weight difference as an alibi.

"No excuses, she just got beat," Baffert said. "She was right with [Romance Is Diane] turning for home, and couldn't get by."

Tough Tiz's Sis has won five races and $419,872 from 13 starts.