11/01/2001 12:00AM

Romanceishope still going strong entering Classic


ARCADIA, Calif. - Romanceishope is at the end of a long campaign, but you wouldn't know it heading into the $250,000 California Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita.

"This horse is a train now, he doesn't act like he's tired," trainer Jenine Sahadi said, adding, "he's a very big, strong horse."

The question remains, is the 3-year-old good enough? Nine horses entered the 1 1/8-mile Wells Fargo California Cup Classic (race 9), in which Romanceishope - one of three 3-year-olds in the field - will try to prove he fits against older. He faces graded stakes winners Irisheyesareflying and Grey Memo; stakes-placed Figlio Mio; claimers Eric Da Bomb, Ben Saw San, and Literal Prowler; and 3-year-olds Waingarth and Vixen Storm.

At nine furlongs, the Classic falls right in line with Romanceishope's specialty - he won the Snow Chief Stakes in April and the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby in September at the same distance he will run Saturday. "The distance definitely works in my favor because I know he's a legitimate mile-and-an eighth horse," Sahadi said.

It is unusual for a son of In Excess to want to run all day, but Romanceishope apparently does. Bred by Shigehiro Hatake, and owned by Hatake and Semji Nisimura, Romanceishope has won five races and $514,40 from 10 starts. His grind-it-out style can play well in the Classic only if his main rivals do not fire. While the winner of the Classic has achieved a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher in 10 of 11 years, Romanceishope has never earned a triple-digit Beyer.

Irisheyesareflying, on the other hand, has earned triple-digit Beyers in six of his last eight starts. The 5-year-old Irisheyesareflying also has more early speed than Romanceishope. Unraced since winning the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 19, Irisheyesareflying is trained by John Dolan.

The question surrounding Figlio Mio is one of distance. The improving gray finished only a head behind Grade 1 winner El Corredor in the one-mile Del Mar Breeders' Cup on Sept. 2, but a quarter crack has prevented him from starting since then. Trainer Ben Cecil said Figlio Mio's training was not significantly compromised, as he jogged for five days instead of galloping.

Figlio Mio's recent works have been solid. "He's fit," said Cecil.

For the son of sprint stallion Rubiano, the question is distance. Figlio Mio has not raced beyond one mile, and may be compromised by the trip. "I'm pretty confident he will [get the distance] from the way he trains," Cecil said.

Figlio Mio has won four of seven, and his only subpar finish was when he broke last in Del Mar sprint.

When he fires, Grey Memo is a good fit against California-breds. He won the Snow Chief Stakes last year at Hollywood Park, and has earned $539,659 by winning six of 29. He typically produces his best form at racetracks other than Santa Anita, however, where he has only three thirds from eight starts. Trained by Warren Stute, Grey Memo must rally from the back of the pack.

The lack of serious pace in the Cal Cup Classic is one reason why longshot front-runner Eric Da Bomb is afforded a chance to spring a major surprise. Eric Da Bomb was claimed for $20,000 in July by trainer Nick Hines, but finished nowhere in his first start for his new connections. Hines added blinkers on Sept. 26, and Eric Da Bomb responded with a decisive win by a 1 1/2 lengths.

The pace and speed figures earned by Eric Da Bomb suggest he is a live longshot in the Classic. Win or lose, he may be the one to catch under Brice Blanc.