12/01/2004 12:00AM

Alto Maestro has shot in turf mile


NEW ORLEANS - Horse racing dreams can be as fragile as late-summer flowers on a frosty December morning. But for the Fair Grounds horticulturist, Alice Stevenson, watering those dreams is a reason to live. Stevenson personally tends to every single flower at Fair Grounds and lavishes the same attention on the star of her two-horse stable, Alto Maestro, a French-bred turf specialist entered in Friday's eighth race at Fair Grounds, a mile starter allowance on the grass that drew a field of nine.

"He's in over his head," Stevenson admitted, "but he's ready to go, and we wanted to get him into a race."

Stevenson brought Alto Maestro, 6-year-old bay gelding by Pursuit of Love, a carrot Wednesday morning and the horse nibbled it gratefully, then nuzzled her gently, looking for more.

"He won a cheaper starter allowance here last March," she said hopefully.

(8-1) is the likely speed of what is otherwise a paceless race but has never placed on turf in six attempts. Risky Cat (8-1) is a good fit class-wise but has only 1 win from 6 grass starts. Willstep, 10, has been racing against better and could be an underlay.

Stevenson has a special reason for dreaming of a victory by Alto Maestro.

"The camellias and impatiens in the winner's circle are really beautiful right now," she said. "They're ready to have a picture taken."

The sixth race is another turf allowance event with a competitive 12-horse field, topped by Pat the Winner, who finished second in a similar race at Hawthorne in his last start. The Chris Speckert-trained Top Gate, who won his only start impressively in a mile grass maiden race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 10, could be the horse to beat in here.

The ninth race is an allowance sprint with a field of six topped by Bay Marvel, who will be ridden by the leading Fair Grounds jockey, Robby Albarado.