09/01/2004 11:00PM

A B Noodle faces rival Marwood

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Is A B Noodle northern California's top turf mare? The question may be answered in Saturday's $55,000-added Autumn Leaves Handicap. The one-mile turf race for fillies and mares is the first of 16 stakes to be run during Bay Meadows's 49-day fall meeting.

A B Noodle will be running against an old rival, Marwood, as well as five others. There will be six betting interests in the race, as Marwood runs coupled with Cat Alert.

Marwood ran second with A B Noodle third in the Miss America here last April. A B Noodle turned the tables in the Grade 3 Yerba Buena one month later, beating runner-up Marwood by three lengths.

A B Noodle, who has enjoyed more success on turf than dirt, ran second in the Santa Clara on the main track after winning the Yerba Buena. She then took the summer off.

Trainer Chuck Jenda hopes A B Noodle will return without missing a beat.

"We kind of backed off on her training a little bit," he said. "Any mare like her that is really high-powered and aggressive, even in her training, benefits from a break. She puts so much into training, you have to take it easy on her."

Because she's so aggressive, A B Noodle has been known to leave her race in the paddock. After winning four of eight starts as a 3-year-old, she was winless in six starts at age 4.

Jenda's patience and constant schooling have helped A B Noodle to avoid those prerace problems. This year, she has three wins, a second, and a pair of thirds in six starts.

Although he is based at Golden Gate Fields, Jenda has taken A B Noodle to Bay Meadows three times in recent weeks to get reacquainted with the indoor paddock, and he planned to school her once more on Friday.

A B Noodle is the one to catch, with the entry, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the primary contenders.

Hollendorfer says Marwood, who has won two straight stakes on the fair circuit, is equally talented on turf or dirt. Cat Alert, who has two firsts and a second this year since joining Hollendorfer's barn, has had a two-month break after winning an $80,000 optional claimer at Hollywood Park.