02/11/2005 12:00AM

Vacant throne for new queen up for grabs

Benoit & Associates
Contention runs deep in Sunday's Santa Maria. The field includes last year's winner, Star Parade (above); Hollywood Story, winner of the Grade 2 Bayakoa in December; and Miss Loren, winner of last summer's Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita on Sunday has such a deep field that all 10 entrants are stakes winners. Seven have won graded or group stakes.

Such a talented field in the Grade 1 Santa Maria offers a puzzle to bettors, who must choose between such prominent hopefuls as defending champion Star Parade; Hollywood Story, the winner of the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap in December; Musical Chimes, a multiple major stakes winner on turf; and Miss Loren, the durable Argentine mare who is seeking the 13th win of her career.

The chances of the other six cannot be dismissed. Personal Legend is trying for her third consecutive stakes win, while outsiders such as Festival, Good Student, and Stormica are hoping to improve off recent stakes wins.

At stake is an early season victory in a major stakes that will give a filly or mare a prominent role in a division that lacks a standout following the retirement of 2004 superstars Azeri and Sightseek.

To an extent, the outcome centers on the performances of Musical Chimes, who is making her debut on the main track, and Star Parade, who has not started since finishing fourth behind Miss Loren in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar last summer. The two mares share top weight of 118 pounds, spotting the other eight horses one to six pounds.

, who has won such major races as the 2003 French 1000 Guineas and the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar last year, was supposed to start on dirt last fall in advance of the Breeders' Cup Distaff but wound up staying on turf. In October, she won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile and finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, facing males in both races.

Musical Chimes has not started since finishing sixth against fillies and mares in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28. Her dirt experience is limited to training on the surface since joining trainer Neil Drysdale's stable in the fall of 2003.

"It's definitely worth a try," Drysdale said of a start on dirt.

, who was bred in Argentina, is seeking her fourth stakes win in the United States and first since the Grade 1 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park last July.

Star Parade is expected to lead, a strategy that worked in the 2004 Santa Maria.

"It would be nice if someone could go with Star Parade," said John Shirreffs, who trains Hollywood Story.

The lone 4-year-old in the field, is making her 12th consecutive appearance in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes.

She has won two of those races - the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in 2003 and the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap in her most recent start. In between, she was winless in six starts, including a fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, and a 10th in the Breeders' Cup Distaff after a layoff of nearly three months.

She regained her status as a top mare with a one-length win in the Bayakoa over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park.

"She looked fantastic winning," Shirreffs said.

will be near the pace. Trained by Luis Seglin,

she ended a four-race losing streak with a four-length win in the Paseana Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here on Jan. 14.

"She's a very, very good filly," Seglin said. "You have to be very aggressive with her in the race. We need to motivate her. I expect a good race from her."

The field

Santa Maria Handicap
Purse: $250,000; Grade 1; 1 1/16 miles

1FestivalD. Sorenson11310-1
2Miss LorenJ. Valdivia1175-1
3StormicaM. Baze11315-1
4Born to Dance J. Court11220-1
5Good Student T. Baze1146-1
6Musical Chimes E. Prado1189-2
7Hollywood Story P. Valenzuela 1175-2
8Petionville IndeedT. Farina11230-1
9Personal Legend J. Bailey11610-1
10Star ParadeV. Espinoza1184-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly