07/02/2002 12:00AM

Spain, leading female earner in North America, is retired

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Spain, the 5-year-old mare who two months ago set a record for most earnings by a filly or mare in North America, has been retired, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday.

The decision to retire Spain was made shortly after she finished third Saturday in the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. She earned $3,540,542 for her owner, the Thoroughbred Corp. of Prince Ahmed Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Spain, who passed Serena's Song for the earnings record when she won the May 3 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, had run her next two races while in foal to Storm Cat. She won the June 15 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs two weeks before the Molly Pitcher.

Lukas said the prince and his advisors "took the position that adding on to the record is nice," but that added earnings were relatively unimportant in relation to her breeding career. "God forbid if something would happen to her. There were no more worlds to conquer, it looked like. They were comfortable with sending her to the farm."

Spain, by Thunder Gulch out of the Regal and Royal mare Drina, was bred in Kentucky by her owner. She began her career in California with trainer Jeff Bonde, who sent her out to just one win in 10 starts, a record that included a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes and a seventh-place finish as a longshot in the Kentucky Oaks.

After the Oaks, Spain was transferred to Lukas, who won five races with her the rest of her 3-year-old season. Easily her greatest victory that year came in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill, where she triumphed by 1 1/2 lengths under Victor Espinoza and returned $113.80 in one of the biggest upsets in Breeders' Cup history.

Spain barely lost out on a divisional Eclipse Award that fall when she was defeated by a nose by Bordelaise in the Falls City Handicap at Churchill. Surfside, trained by Lukas, won the award.

At 4, Spain won just once in nine starts, but again, the Distaff was the highlight of the year. She appeared on her way to victory at Belmont Park, only to be nailed in the last two jumps by Unbridled Elaine.

"We'll always think we should have won both Breeders' Cup races," Lukas said.

This year, Spain won twice in seven starts to end her career with nine wins from 35 starts. She was vanned Tuesday to Three Chimneys Farm in Versailles, Ky.