12/13/2007 12:00AM

Small's pair figure tough in Squan Song

EmailAlthough stablemates Take a Check and For Kisses have combined to earn nearly $600,000 in their careers, neither has ever managed to win a stakes.

Both Maryland-breds, trained by Richard Small, are thus eligible for Saturday's $45,000 Squan Song, a seven-furlong race at Laurel Park restricted to statebreds who have never won a stakes.

Particularly in the case of Take a Check, the lack of a stakes win on her resume isn't for lack of trying. Since November 2004, the 5-year-old Take a Check has been second or third in 11 of her 20 races against stakes company while earning $264,145 of her lifetime $413,570. Her efforts include a third in the 2006 Delaware Handicap, a Grade 2 stakes.

"She's a delightful mare - big, powerful - but it's difficult to get her to win," Small said of Take a Check, who is likely to remain in training next year. "She always seems to be goofing off. Lots of times after the race I think there's more there, that she didn't quite run her best."

Her last three races, which produced Beyer Speed Figures in a narrow range of 84 to 86, are close to the Squan Song's average winning figure of 87.

Small, who has won two of the last three runnings of the Squan Song, may have an even stronger contender than Take a Check in For Kisses. A 4-year-old filly, For Kisses is 5 for 9 over Laurel's main track, including a win over Take a Check and the multiple stakes winner Silmaril while matching her career-best Beyer of 93 in a one-mile optional claimer on Nov. 7.

Although For Kisses is 0 for 8 in stakes company, she just missed in the one-mile Maryland Million Oaks in October 2006 and has earned $180,506 overall, nearly $80,000 of it in stakes. She, too, will continue racing in 2008.

Aside from Small's uncoupled entry, the contenders in a full field of 14 include recent Scott Lake acquisition Ursula's Passion, the sharp 3-year-old Now It Begins, and Hanalei Bay, a three-time runner-up in stakes company this season.

Ursula's Passion, claimed out of a $35,000 race at Philadelphia Park in October, will be making her first start for Lake. She won back-to-back seven-furlong races at Laurel early in 2007.

Now It Begins, one of two uncoupled entries for trainer Mike Trombetta, has won back-to-back starts by a combined margin of nearly six lengths. She missed by a head in her lone previous stakes try last March.

Hanalei Bay was first or second in 4 of 5 starts between April and September, but has been dull in her two most recent starts.