05/24/2003 12:00AM

Bien Nicole back to her best surface


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - The last WinStar Distaff winner trainer Donnie Von Hemel saddled paid $60.40. Bien Nicole won't be near as generous of a price Monday when she makes her first turf start of the year in the seventh running of the one-mile race for fillies and mares.

The Grade 3, $200,000 Distaff, which is graded for the first time, is one of seven stakes worth a total of $1 million on Lone Star Million Day.

Bien Nicole brings an outstanding turf record into the Distaff, which also drew California invaders Little Treasure and Magic Mission.

No matter the going - firm, good, or yielding turf - Bien Nicole delivered on the grass all last year. She won five straight on the surface, with four of those victories coming in stakes - one against males.

But this year, Bien Nicole has not yet raced on her best surface. She wintered at Oaklawn Park, where there is no turf, then had her May 2 allowance prep for the Distaff moved to the main track because of heavy rains.

"I was disappointed we didn't get to run on the turf last time, but she did go ahead and get the job done," said Von Hemel. "I think she's going to show us that she's happy to be back on turf."

Despite racing on dirt all year, Bien Nicole has been on top of her game. She has won 2 of 3 starts, including the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup.

Don Pettinger has the mount for Von Hemel, who won the Distaff in 2001 with 30-1 shot Voladora. Bien Nicole, a winner of 10 of 19 starts, is owned by Kris and John Richter.

Beck Turf Sprint: Morluc heads mixed group

One of the most competitive races on the card is the $100,000 Beck Auto Group Turf Sprint at five furlongs, which drew a mix of shippers and local horses, led by Morluc.

In his last start, Morluc was second, beaten a head, in the Grade 3, $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on May 2.

"He ran awfully good," said Randy Morse, who trains Morluc. "He had been off a long time."

The Aegon was Morluc's first start since July. Morse said he plans to run Morluc, who has raced all over the world, at Royal Ascot late next month.

His chief rivals Monday include No Jacket Required, winner of the Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown at Keeneland, and Islander, a 16-time winner claimed for $80,000 in his last start at Hollywood Park.

Islander shortens up from 6 1/2 furlongs for the Beck.

"He's lightning fast in turf sprints, and we figured going five furlongs, as fast as he is, the shorter the better," said Ted H. West, who trains Islander.

Also in the Beck is the Cole Norman-trained pair of That Tat, perfect in three starts this year, and Joyful Tune, who was second in this race last year to Group 1 winner Nuclear Debate.

USA Stakes: Calhoun trio back

Lone Star Deputy, Commander's Affair, and Iceanwater, who finished first, third, and fifth last month in the $100,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge for trainer Bret Calhoun, are all back for the $200,000 USA Stakes.

The 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds drew a full field, and starts the second of two pick fours on a card that will offer a reduced takeout of 15 percent on the bet.

Among those facing the Calhoun trio are Lone Star Sky, who raced in the Kentucky Derby and runs on turf for the first time; Leo's Last Hurrahy, the state's reigning horse of the year, who removes blinkers; and Crowned King, a troubled fourth in the Grade 3, $500,000 Lone Star Derby.

Lone Star Deputy was up for a neck win in the Turf Challenge at a mile April 5.

"He had a little trouble, but he got through on the rail," said Calhoun. "Instead of going into the Lone Star Derby from there and crowding his races, we made our main objective at the meet this race, the USA."

Lone Star Deputy races for Coast to Coast Racing, and will be ridden by Eddie Martin Jr.

Valid Expectations: Distinctive Code sprints

Distinctive Code returns to sprinting in the $100,000 Valid Expectations, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares that also drew Grade 1 winner See How She Runs and tough sprinter Southern Tour.

The last time Distinctive Code sprinted, on March 15, she won the $100,000 Victoria Lass at Fair Grounds by 1 1/4 lengths over Miss Lodi, who came back and ran third in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill.

Distinctive Code went to turf for her last race, and finished second in the $75,000 Irving Distaff, a two-turn stakes here on April 12.

Shane Sellers has the mount Monday for trainer Larry Robideaux Jr.

* The two statebred stakes on the card will feature comebacks by two multiple stakes winners. Lights on Broadway returns from a five-month layoff in the $50,000 Carter McGregor Jr. Memorial, while Hadif's Allstar makes her first start since December in the $50,000 Valor Farm.