03/02/2006 12:00AM

Tampa Bay: Pitanga drops in class


Pitanga, fourth behind House of Fortune in her 2006 debut in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff, moves to a more comfortable class level on Saturday, when she tops a field of 10 fillies and mares in the $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Pitanga tried her toughest competition to date in the Sunshine Millions Distaff. She rallied from off the pace to move to fourth into the stretch along the outside, but couldn't handle House of Fortune, who drew off to win by more than six lengths. Pitanga came into the Sunshine Millions Distaff off a third-place finish to Mocita in the $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap and a fast-closing second in the Mia's Hope Stakes, both at Calder.

Cecil Penalba will ride Pitanga, who will carry 116 pounds. Trained by Richard Ciardullo Sr., Pitanga seeks her fourth win from 13 career outings.

Topping the challengers to Pitanga are Preach It, a daughter of Saint Ballado who is one of the top speed runners in the Wayward Lass, and Julie's Prize, a $440,000 career earner who will be making her first start since finishing second in the Colleen Stakes at Hawthorne last spring.

Preach It moves back to stakes company after leading into the stretch of her last two starts, both against high-level allowance rivals. Last time out, she cut out blistering fractions, including six furlongs in 1:10.98, before weakening to finish third to Darluna. In her lone stakes try, Preach It led to midstretch in the Stage Door Betty before fading to eighth. Oliver Castillo will ride Preach It at 118 pounds.

Julie's Prize was one of the better Illinois-bred fillies or mares before going to the sidelines in April. She has won 7 of 25 lifetime starts and has been training in Aiken, S.C., for her return to action.

Locally based Phone the Diva, who runs well on both turf and dirt, comes into Saturday's race off a third to stakes winner Emerald Earrings. Sunset Kisses, a stakes winner trained by Joan Scott, also deserves consideration.