02/16/2009 1:00AM

African Violet switches to turf


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After finishing within three-quarters of a length of eventual champion 3-year-old filly Proud Spell in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks last July, it appeared African Violet was on the way to bigger and better things. Instead, the effort at Delaware Park turned out to be so big it pretty much knocked out African Violet for the rest of the year.

Following a six-month absence, African Violet finally returns to action over somewhat unfamiliar ground, the turf, when she takes on eight rivals in Wednesday's $46,000 feature at Gulfstream Park. The third-level optional $75,000 claiming race will be run at a mile.

African Violet was a stakes winner and also registered a pair of victories over Gulfstream's main track early at 3. She started just once more following the Delaware Oaks, finishing a distant fourth in the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks.

"It seemed like the race against Proud Spell knocked her out, so I just decided to give her a break after she ran at Monmouth," said trainer Graham Motion. "She was entered to run here last month but tied up on me a couple of days before the race so I had to back off on her a bit once again."

African Violet has made just one previous start on grass, finishing eighth in her career debut at 2.

"I think it's easier to come back on grass, and I like the one-mile distance," said Motion. "She's bred for turf, and I've always wanted to try her on the grass again. She was very green and I had to stop on her for sore shins after her first start, so I put no credence in that race at all."

African Violet will have her work cut out returning against a field that includes proven turf runners Flibberjibit, Polar Circle, and Rustic Flame.

Flibberjibit drops into softer company after getting beat just three lengths despite setting a contested pace in the Grade 3 Suwannee River. Flibberjibit ran off a five-race win streak in New York last season and won a slightly softer allowance condition by 3 1/4 lengths here on Jan. 25.

Polar Circle was a listed winner at 3 in England and figures to control the pace on Wednesday.

Rustic Flame skips a condition but did finish second, beaten a nose, against slightly softer allowance company in her 2008 finale at Churchill Downs.