09/01/2003 11:00PM

Tall task for Printemps

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Benoit & Associates
Printemps, the Piedra highweight on Thursday, has won one of her last dozen starts.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Printemps is in the twilight of a successful North American campaign. Two other Group 1-winning imports from South America, Eclipse de Luna and Kiana, are about to start their second acts. Those three, along with graded stakes performers Adoration, Rhiana, and Royally Chosen, make Thursday's featured $75,000 Piedra Foundation Stakes a significant cut above the usual weekday offerings at Del Mar.

The Piedra Foundation, at one mile for older females, drew a field of nine. Printemps is the most accomplished of the runners, but she has won just once in her last 12 starts after winning seven of her first nine. Her gaudy rŽsumŽ, choc-a-block with races against Grade 1 company, still resulted in her being the race's topweight, at 119 pounds. She has not raced since June 15, when she was second in Churchill Downs's Fleur de Lis Handicap.

Eclipse de Luna, like Printemps a native of Chile, won 13 of 22 starts in her native land, including a Group 1 race last October. She is making her first start in this country, and her first start since January.

"She's been ready to run for three or four months. I've just been waiting for a race for her," said Bill Spawr, who trains Eclipse de Luna. "She's trained real well, but I think she might need a race."

Kiana is also making her first start in this country. She won a pair of Group 1 races, including one against males, but they were in her native Peru. How does that form translate to here?

"Your guess is as good as mine," Kiana's trainer, Laura de Seroux, said with a laugh at her Del Mar barn on Tuesday morning. "Peru is definitely considered third tier to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. She was the Peruvian Horse of the Year, but maybe that's like being the Uruguayan Horse of the Year. She's trained really well."

Adoration, the winner of last year's Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks, has not raced since January. She has a sharp series of works for her return for trainer David Hofmans, but this will be her first start ever at Del Mar.

Royally Chosen returned from an 18-month layoff and broke poorly when sprinting in an optional-claiming field on Aug. 10. She ran very well in her second start off a layoff after a sprint prep at Del Mar in 2001.

Rhiana has not raced since April, but also has been training sharply, though without horseshoes. Rhiana has had foot problems, and her trainer, Dan Hendricks, said he was leaning toward putting glue-on shoes on Rhiana for the race. Hendricks is also considering scratching Rhiana in favor of Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap on the turf.