02/10/2004 12:00AM

Allspice shaky off 10-month layoff

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NEW ORLEANS - Allspice, a 16-length maiden winner and the fifth-place finisher in the Grade 1 Ashland last spring, makes her first start of the year in Thursday's featured ninth race at Fair Grounds.

And as far as her trainer Greg Geier is concerned, it's about time.

Geier has entered several times, short and long, turf and dirt, and finally he has found a race for her. Her spot is a 5 1/2-furlong, second-level turf allowance, but with rain forecast here Tuesday through Friday, the race is likely to be moved from turf to dirt.

That is Geier's hope, though at this point, he simply wants Allspice to have a race. "She needs to run now," Geier said. "She's ready, and she needs a race."

When Allspice last raced, in the Ashland on April 5, Geier still was Gene Cilio's longtime assistant. Cilio died last fall, and Geier has taken over his Fair Grounds string, which has so far held together. Since moving to the position of head trainer, Geier has won twice, and though Allspice's primary goals will be races over a distance of ground, Geier believes he has a chance for another victory Thursday.

"I think she'll run well," he said. "In the Thelma here last year she was second to Lady Tak, and that was six furlongs. She's been training real well. She's been going right along steadily."

Allspice came out of the Ashland with bone chips in her right knee. They were surgically removed, and Allspice rested, recovered, and returned to training last fall. She has six timed workouts at Fair Grounds, and probably has more raw ability than any of her five opponents in Thursday's race.

But though Allspice was good enough to run second in the Thelma, her potential really will come out in middle-distance races, and she might be vulnerable Thursday to a sharp sprinter better suited to this abbreviated distance. Two such fillies were entered, , beaten a head three weeks ago in a third-level allowance, and Stonington, who returns from a long layoff with a pair of training-center workouts.

Lacking a suitable spot, Cabo Sunrise raced out of her conditions the last time she ran, and nearly won anyway. She has performed well in two starts here for trainer Mike Stidham, and is a win threat from just off the pace.

Stonington has the outside post, but might clear and take an early lead anyway. Her trainer, Mark Frostad, has an excellent win percentage with layoff horses, and Stonington nearly won the Pan Zareta Handicap over this track last season.