02/15/2002 1:00AM

Wine is Queenie Belle's elixir


ARCADIA, Calif. - No disrespect to Spain or Printemps, but there are no superstars Sunday in the Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita. This belief is fine for Queenie Belle, the California-bred mare getting fat on cheap wine and poised to upset the first Grade 1 of winter for fillies and mares.

"It's not an easy race, a Grade 1 never is," said Queenie Belle's trainer, Ben Cecil. "But it's her distance

and it's reasonably wide open."

Is it ever. Though 119-pound highweight Spain is nearing the all-time female earnings record, she also has lost eight straight. Chilean Group 1 comebacker Printemps was training well until an aborted work Friday put her under a cloud. Favorite Funtime probably cannot stay the trip; Critikola and Leading may be outclassed; two others are turf fillies.

Cecil is right, the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria is wide open, and Queenie Belle has never been better. In the three weeks since she began receiving a daily dose of Carlos Rossi ($3.99 a jug), Queenie Belle has added weight and trained with purpose.

"She's dead fit," said Cecil, adding "all her best races are at a mile and a sixteenth." Queenie Belle, 5 years old and owned by Gary Seidler, is qualified. She has won six races and $620,790 from 21 starts.

Cecil acknowledges Queenie Belle may not be the best older mare in training, but she may not have to be Sunday. She and jockey Brice Blanc should get a good trip behind pacesetter Favorite Funtime, and take the lead when that one falters.

From there, they must hold off Spain, who is $328,348 behind the all-time female earnings mark held by Serena's Song, who like Spain was trained by D. Wayne Lukas. The Santa Maria is Spain's second start back, and Lukas expects her to improve after finishing third in the seven-furlong La Brea. She has won only one of 10 since her upset in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff, but she is always right there.

"She's had more than 15 minutes of fame," Lukas said, "She's had a very, very, solid career, and she's back to what what she does best - two turns." Spain has won seven races and $2,995,040 from 29 starts. Said Lukas: "She shows up at the right time."

One entrant who may not show up is Printemps, whose status was undetermined as of Friday, when she took a bad step at the start of an aborted workout. Trainer Ron McAnally said Friday that Printemps's status would depend on a Saturday examination.