03/15/2005 12:00AM

Blind Ambition back at last

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Having recovered from a minor injury that turned into a 15-month layoff, Blind Ambition returns Thursday at Santa Anita as the horse to beat in the $125,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares.

The 6 1/2-furlong turf stakes attracted a field of 12, including minor stakes winners Tucked Away, Market Garden, Scrofa, and Our Mango. Half the field is returning from a layoff, but none has been away as long as Blind Ambition, one mare players can never bet enough.

was favored in her first eight starts, which yielded four victories and four seconds. Her triumphs included the 2003 California Cup Distaff, but in her subsequent start Dec. 20 in the Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap, she got hurt. The question Thursday is whether Blind Ambition still has the same stuff.

"I think she can win," trainer Marty Jones said. "She's training super, and she's fit."

She also is a 7-year-old. And so what?

"She's a pretty aggressive horse," Jones said. "They trained her a lot [at Harris Farms], and really took their time with her before bringing her back."

Owned and bred by Harris Farms, Blind Ambition is coming back to racing to get graded black type and enhance her broodmare value. For now, she still has some racing to do, and if she runs as well as in either previous downhill start (she won both), she can win the Irish O'Brien under Gary Stevens. Blind Ambition has won four races and $263,580 from nine starts.

The best mare in the field based on turf-sprint figures, Blind Ambition runs well fresh. She won her debut in June 2002 and has won following layoffs of seven months and four months. She will have to catch . Five Star Meeting returned from a layoff of more than nine months to win a slow-paced allowance at Bay Meadows on Feb. 23, and is trying a turf sprint for the first time.

"She's bred for it, she's got tactical speed, and she doesn't need the lead," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "The only question is the turf course."

Five Star Meeting, by General Meeting, is racing downhill for the first time. She has won 4 of 13 races.

* The 2004 Santa Anita Derby winner, Castledale, returns to turf for the first time since the 2003 Generous Stakes in race 5. Miss Coronado, winner of the Grade 2 Davona Dale last winter at Gulfstream, returns in race 2.