01/23/2003 12:00AM

Svea Dahl making herself right at home


ARCADIA, Calif. - When she left here, Svea Dahl was stuck in allowance races and high-priced claimers. Since being taken for $62,500 on June 26, and taken back east, she has developed into a graded stakes winner, with four victories in her last five starts.

Svea Dahl hopes to be the homecoming queen on Saturday, when she returns to Santa Anita and heads the field in the $750,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff, the richest of the four Sunshine Millions races that will be held at Santa Anita.

Fourteen were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Distaff, but at least two will come out. Coolbythepool, who drew the rail, did not ship from Florida, and Secret of Mecca, who was on the also-eligible list, on Thursday entered Saturday's most prestigious and overlooked race, the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap.

Svea Dahl comes off victories in stakes races at Aqueduct and Laurel in her last two starts, bringing her record to 10 wins in 24 tries. In an attempt to give Svea Dahl her best shot at taking down this lucrative prize, trainer Bruce Levine, who is based in New York, sent Svea Dahl to Santa Anita three weeks ago, and entrusted her care to groom William McRae and Peter Levine, Bruce's cousin and the trainer of a small string here.

"She's been training really good," McRae said Thursday morning. "She's training better than she did back east."

Svea Dahl seems able to adapt to any situation. With the exception of two poor grass races, she has been a model of consistency. She has finished in the money in 17 of 22 starts on the main track. She also has won races at Belmont Park, Aqueduct, Laurel, Saratoga, and Hollywood Park since June.

"She doesn't need to take her track with her," Bruce Levine said as he watched the 6-year-old mare school in the paddock before Thursday's first race. "She takes everything in stride. Nothing really rattles her."

Svea Dahl drew post 11, but will move one closer to the rail because of the scratch of Coolbythepool. Still, her post could prove a challenge, especially with two of her principal rivals, Cee's Elegance and Smok'n Frolic, having drawn better posts.

Cee's Elegance, who will break from post 4 with the scratch of Coolbythepool, is in the best form of her career. She was second to Starrer in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15, after beating California-breds in the Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 24.

Smok'n Frolic, a multiple graded stakes winner at age 2, had a disappointing campaign last year, but finished the year on an up note with a victory in the Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park. She comes into this race fresh, with a steady series of workouts at Palm Meadows Training Center in south Florida.

"She's training very well, and she's proven in the past she's a filly of quality," her trainer, Todd Pletcher, said from Florida.

Pletcher said he had hoped to give Smok'n Frolic one race between her last start, on Oct. 5, and the Sunshine Millions. But a combination of foot bruises and a desire to bring Smok'n Frolic into this race fresh, forced Pletcher to wait for this race rather than try to jam a prep into her.

"She does better with five or six weeks between races," Pletcher said. "The best way to go into a race like this is to take our best shot. When she's on her game, she's a pretty good filly."

Michael McCarthy, Pletcher's assistant, said Smok'n Frolic had adapted well since arriving Tuesday from Florida.

"It's taken a while to get her feet right, but she's good now. Mentally, she's on top of her game," McCarthy said at Santa Anita. "And it's kind of hard to pass this up when they give away that kind of money."

Bob's Lady has the look of a live longshot. She has won her last two starts on the main track, and comes off a runaway victory against California-breds in a stakes race at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 5.