11/25/2005 1:00AM

Baffert says Talullah Lula on improve


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Talullah Lula is either a complete throw-out in the $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Sunday at Hollywood Park, or she is the best gamble on the card.

A field of eight entered the 1 1/16-mile Sharp Cat, including turf fillies Balance and Cross, and two others that recently drilled Talullah Lula in maiden dirt races - My Little Monkey and Make Mine Minnie. Barring improvement, is difficult to endorse in the Sharp Cat, a prep for the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 18.

Nevertheless, trainer Bob Baffert said he believes Talullah Lula is not the same filly that lost two previous routes. "She's changed a lot, she's getting better and better," he said. "She's totally different now; she's going the right way."

The remarks might be dismissed as hyperbole, but evidence supports the claim. Talullah Lula ran the best race of her career last out, has had two bullet works since, and is bred to run long. Sired by Old Trieste, Talullah Lula overcame a pronounced inside speed bias to win a six-furlong maiden race last time.

Garrett Gomez rides Talullah Lula, who is owned by Baffert's wife, Natalie, and Gary Garber. Although the 78 Beyer Speed Figure that Talullah Lula earned last time was modest, so are her rivals on Sunday. high figure is 72.

Sunday is the first running of the Sharp Cat, which was added to the fall stakes schedule when Hollywood sacked the Autumn Turf Festival. The surface change is unfortunate for , whose impressive performances at Santa Anita were both on turf. Balance won her sprint debut, then was disqualified from victory in a mile turf stakes, the Hidden Light.

Although trainer David Hofmans said Balance "has trained well on dirt," her pedigree gives reason for concern. Balance was sired by Thunder Gulch, and her dam, Vertigineux, finished last her only start on dirt. Vertigineux's only other foal is the 3-year-old filly Where's Bailey, a 5-for-17 stakes winner on turf who was off the board her only start on dirt.

Sweet Fourty figures to move up while returning to dirt. She ran poorly in the Hidden Light on turf, but won a sloppy-track allowance by more than eight lengths in her previous start. Evening Escort and I Can See also are entered.

The Sharp Cat, named after the seven-time Grade 1 winner who earned more than $2 million by winning 15 of 22, goes as race 8 on the nine-race card.