04/13/2005 11:00PM

Will Paz Ciudadana learn to relax?


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Sometimes jockey and horse get into a wrestling match during a race. If the horse wins the fight with the rider, she is likely to lose the race. Excessive pulling is a no-no at higher levels of racing, especially on turf, where a stretch punch is required.

And so, it was fairly amazing to see easily win a third-level grass allowance race March 11 at Fair Grounds. Suffice it to say that her rider, the now-suspended Donnie Meche, might have spent that evening soaking his arms in ice. It took three-quarters of a mile, but Meche ultimately won the fight for control, and when the mare finally got clear in the stretch - and Meche said with his hands, "Go on with it already" - Paz Ciudadana unleashed a kick that made her a horse worth following.

Her next stop comes late Saturday afternoon at Lone Star Park, where Paz Ciudadana faces nine rivals in the $75,000 Irving Distaff, scheduled for 7 1/2 furlongs on turf. The field includes Janeian, an easy winner of this race last year, and My Misty Princess, a stakes winner the last time she raced on this turf course.

Paz Ciudadana is a Chilean-bred 5-year-old, purchased by Nelson Bunker Hunt and sent to California sometime between August 2003 and June 2004, when she beat entry-level allowance horses at Hollywood Park by more than two lengths in her U.S. debut. Then came the trouble lines: "pulled," "ranked, steadied," "pulled, steadied," read the chart comments from her next three starts. In the Fair Grounds race, her first start since being transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen, things were similar, but Paz Ciudadana was superior, and she got away with her poor manners.

"I like her a lot," Asmussen said earlier this week. "She's not nervous about it, she's just very strong. I think she could be a very good horse.

"I'd seen her previous races. Rank early, rank early, rank early. I think when she figures out where the wire is, it's going to be a lot easier."

The good news for Paz Ciudadana and jockey Lonnie Meche is the ample amount of speed entered in the Irving Distaff. The leaders might simply run away from Paz Ciudadana, and it will be easier to keep her off a fast pace than a slow one.

The same holds for Janeian, who has turned in subpar efforts in her last four races, and needs to race behind other horses to show her best.

"The key to her is when she's worked good, she's run good, and her last two works have been excellent," said trainer Bret Calhoun.