04/16/2009 12:00AM

Abbott Hall returns in turf stakes


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Thursday will be a busy day for Hal Wiggins. The veteran trainer will send out the favorite for the Kentucky Oaks, Rachel Alexandra, for a morning workout at Churchill Downs, and a few hours later Wiggins will make the 80-mile drive from Louisville to Keeneland to saddle Abbott Hall for the Appalachian Stakes.

Abbott Hall raced once against her more accomplished stablemate, to no avail. That was in the Pocahontas Stakes last fall on the main track at Churchill Downs, when Rachel Alexandra was second and Abbott Hall was a distant fifth.

"Abbott Hall is much more a turf filly, which we really confirmed that day," Wiggins said.

Away for the winter, Abbott Hall will make her season debut when part of an outstanding field of 3-year-old fillies in the $100,000 Appalachian, a Grade 3 turf race run at one mile. Habaya, winner of the Grade 3 Miesque last fall at Hollywood Park, looks like the horse to beat, although several others stand solid chances at what would be a mild upset.

Abbott Hall, a late-running El Corredor filly, is one of those. A six-length winner of the $150,000 Happy Ticket Stakes last September at Louisiana Downs, she was given about six weeks off after her final race at 2 and "came back to me in mid-January at Oaklawn Park," Wiggins said. "This looks like a pretty stout group, but she's trained really, really well for this."

Robby Albarado has the mount on Abbott Hall, who was assigned post 5 among the 10 fillies in the main body of the race. In all, 12 were entered, including two also-eligibles.

Habaya, with Alan Garcia riding for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, will be trying to rebound off a disappointing finish in her only race this year, the Feb. 15 Coconut Grove on the Gulfstream Park turf. Prior to that, the Storm Cat filly stamped herself as a potential divisional leader by winning the perennially tough Miesque in late November.

Other major contenders in the 21st Appalachian, which goes as the eighth of nine Thursday races, include April Pride, a Southern California invader in for trainer Jim Cassidy; Hot Cha Cha, a six-length winner of the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park last out; and Obsequious, runner-up in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream Park.