12/26/2002 1:00AM

The Allspice story: Long, short, shorter, long

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NEW ORLEANS - Allspice started her career running long, but since her debut has raced at progressively shorter distances, a trend that will continue next Saturday in the Thelma Stakes. At this rate, she'll be running with Quarter Horses by summer.

Allspice started her career in a two-turn turf race - finishing seventh because she disliked grass - before winning a one-turn-mile dirt race Oct. 3 at Arlington by 16 lengths. In her next start she won the seven-furlong Eliza Stakes by more than three lengths. Now, the six-furlong Thelma will be the shortest race of her career. The amazing thing is that her connections, owner Jim Tafel and trainer Gene Cilio, think Allspice is more naturally suited to two-turn races.

The Thelma will serve as a prep for just that, not that Allspice isn't gifted enough to win it. Twenty-two days later, she will return in the one-mile Tiffany Lass around two turns, Cilio said.

Allspice has had two months of down time, and Cilio is just interested in getting her back to the races.

"I don't think this will be her favorite distance, but she hasn't run since October and she needs to get a race in her," Cilio said. "I turned her back to seven-eighths, and even though she broke slow she still won. I just want her to get acclimated to the racetrack there."

Allspice has turned in a series of encouraging works since moving to Fair Grounds in November, the last of which was five furlongs in 1:01.60, third fastest of 64 works at the distance on Dec. 21.

Said Cilio, "As a coming 3-year-old, I'd at least put her in the same class as Lakenheath," who won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday here two seasons ago.

Rematch not in the cards for now

A rematch between Rock Slide and Discreet Hero is on hold. The pair dueled memorably through the stretch of the Tenacious Handicap with Rock Slide winning by a nose, but while Rock Slide is scheduled to run back Jan. 2 in the Louisiana Handicap, Discreet Hero will await the Diplomat Way Handicap here on Jan. 19.

Trainer Al Stall waxed enthusiastic about Discreet Hero's condition coming out of the Tenacious, but said he preferred to give Discreet Hero more time between starts. "He came out of it excellent, better than I ever could have hoped," Stall said. "This is a long series of [handicap] races here, and he's run pretty good with six weeks' rest."

Discreet Hero showed talent two summers ago at age 3, but this year, starting his season in Southern California, he was slow to come around. Back in Stall's barn this summer, Discreet Hero raced twice at Arlington before the decision was made to geld him, and since then he has turned in two strong performances, finishing second in a Keeneland allowance in his race before the Tenacious.

"I have no doubt that race he just ran was the best race of his career," Stall said. "Maybe gelding has helped him. Now he's going to go all the way to the wire and run hard."

* This is the season to begin thinking about 3-year-old route horses, but Fair Grounds's series of 3-year-old stakes races starts Sunday with a sprint, the $75,000 Sugar Bowl at six furlongs. With many of the most talented horses awaiting route stakes, the Sugar Bowl had only six confirmed starters as of Thursday: Crowned King, Down Play, Haillye's A.T.M., Launch Spot, Mick, and Saintly Look. Several others were expected to enter on Friday.