01/29/2003 1:00AM

Viernes has big shoes to fill


ARCADIA, Calif. - Since the retirement last fall of Farda Amiga, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2002, there has been a void in trainer Paulo Lobo's stable at Hollywood Park.

In the last three months, from a limited number of starters, Lobo has had one winner - Viernes in the Waya Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28.

She returns in Friday's $75,000 Reloy Handicap at Santa Anita, a race that could lead to more lucrative stakes for her.

Lobo considered the recent La Prevoyante at Calder for Viernes, but passed when transportation became a problem. He then shifted his focus to the Reloy.

Run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, the Reloy may be too short for Viernes. She was sixth in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes over that distance behind Golden Apples, Voodoo Dancer, and Banks Hills, but there are no fillies or mares of that caliber in the Reloy field.

"She has been improving a lot," Lobo said. "I think a mile and a quarter is a good spot for her. It will be better than a mile and an eighth."

A 6-year-old, Viernes was a group stakes winner in Brazil in 2001. Her only win in four starts last year came in the Waya, run at 1 1/2 miles on turf. In Brazil, she won her final three starts, all going 1 1/4 miles on turf against females.

In the Reloy, Viernes faces several fillies and mares trying to end lengthy losing streaks. Polaire was stakes-placed last year, but is winless in her last 12 starts. Noches de Rosa is winless in five starts since the 2001 Chilean Oaks. Snowflake, who may go favored, was second in the Waya Handicap, but has not won in four starts since an optional claimer at Hollywood Park last May.

Noches de Rosa has not lived up to her reputation since arriving in the United States last year. She has finished fourth in four of her five starts in this country, including the Palomar Handicap last September at Del Mar and the Yellow Ribbon Stakes. In one start this year, Noches de Rosa finished fourth in an optional claimer over a mile on turf, a distance that was perhaps shorter than what she would prefer.

"I think this race is what she wants," trainer Richard Mandella said.

For Viernes, taking the place of a champion may be asking too much, but a second stakes win is a possibility on Friday.

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