10/26/2006 12:00AM

This time, Romance Is Diane will be challenged


ARCADIA, Calif. - Now that Romance Is Diane has proven herself over a distance of ground, the issue Saturday is whether she can win a race that has another front-runner.

Romance Is Diane got loose three weeks ago in her first start around two turns and scored a 16-1 front-running maiden win in a performance that makes her a favorite Saturday in the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

"She seems like a smart filly, and if other horses send, she doesn't need the lead," trainer Mike Mitchell said.

So he hopes. But no one knows for sure if Romance Is Diane can take the heat in the 10-runner Juvenile Fillies, the final race on the 11-race Cal Cup card.

Sired by In Excess, Romance Is Diane is a half-sister to Del Mar Derby winner Romanceishope, and she faces a distance-challenged field.

"I think there are questions if some of the others can go two turns," Mitchell said.

They include Kiss the Cooke, the high-figure filly off a 78 Beyer Figure earned finishing second in the seven-furlong Cover Gal Stakes; Tonja's World, who was ovulating when she finished far back in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf; and upset-minded Swiss Current.

Kiss the Cooke's trainer, Brian Koriner, is banking on his filly's raw ability to compensate for the distance challenge. She figures to run from just off the speed, Koriner said.

"Some of the others will be all-out to get two turns," he said. "My filly might be, too, but she'll be in the right spot."

Three of the last four Juvenile Fillies winners prepped in the Cover Gal. Swiss Current, by Swiss Yodeler, finished fourth in the Cover Gal.

"She's a big, strong filly, and though Swiss Yodeler makes you [think] sprint, she trained like a router from the word go," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Tonja's World crushed maidens at Del Mar by more than 10 lengths, earning a creditable 75 Beyer. But her reproductive instincts got the best of her in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf. Trainer Cliff Sise said the filly was ovulating, and the race is a toss.

"I knew I was dead when we walked over," Sise said.

If Tonja's World runs back to her maiden win, she fits in a wide-open race.

Cathrine's Hope finished a fast-closing third in her sprint debut, and the In Excess filly should love two turns. She is the second foal out of graded-stakes-placed Cookin Vickie; her older brother Dark Nose won 2 of 5 and ran long.

Other starters include Katispsublue, Miss Melissa, Prenuptial, Solid Brass Cat, and Excessive Tale.