12/29/2008 12:00AM

Candy Ball looks like sweet overlay at 12-1


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There is not a single graded stakes winner entered in Saturday's $60,000 Furl Sail Handicap at Fair Grounds, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

You won't find any complaints on this front. Without any star power in the race, the Furl Sail drew 14 entrants, making it one of the best wagering stakes of the weekend.

The race is so deep and competitive that my choice, Candy Ball, sits at 12-1 on the morning line - despite recording three stakes victories this year and leading the field with a 2008 bankroll of more than $189,000.

Now one can only hope Candy Ball sticks to those odds, or at least something close to it. For a horse at such a price, she has much in her favor.

For starters, she's well drawn in post 1, in contrast to some of her primary opponents, who are hung on the outside and at risk of a wide trip. From the inside, Candy Ball should be able to save ground and secure her preferred stalking position.

She was not as fortunate in her most recent start Sept. 20 when racing in the River Cities at Louisiana Downs. There she drew post 9 in the 11-horse field and found herself in eighth early, 12 lengths off the early pace.

Even so, she ran respectably to finish fifth in a race in which three of the nine returnees came back to win.

Candy Ball has been out of action for more than three months heading into the Furl Sail. But her trainer, Andy Leggio, regularly aims his horses for the Fair Grounds meet, and this filly is already proven fresh, having won following a layoff of nearly eight months in October of last year.

Her workouts further suggest Candy Ball is well prepared for her return. She worked five furlongs more than a month ago at Fair Grounds, and went a swift half-mile in 48.40 seconds Dec. 18 in preparation for the Furl Sail.

She is also proven at Fair Grounds, both on the turf and on dirt, in case rain forces this race to be moved to the main track. She won the off-the-turf Bayou Handicap last February at Fair Grounds, and followed that victory with a score in the Fortin Handicap on the grass.

Candy Ball will need her best race to win, but her best is good enough. This past summer she beat the boys in the Independence Stakes at Louisiana Downs, earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, a number competitive with the better numbers of the top contenders.

Stormy West and Shytoe Lafeet head the opposition. But they are not without weaknesses. Stormy West figures to take heavy action, likely to underlay status, after winning the Blushing K. D. Stakes in the slop, and Shytoe Lafeet is unfavorably drawn in post 13.

Holiday Cheer: Darling Mon still rising

Horseplayers waiting for Darling Mon to bounce have been kept waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting.

The 5-year-old Darling Mon has exceeded his Beyer top in each of his four starts since his debut at River Downs in June. Following that performance, which earned him a 40 Beyer, he has steadily improved, advancing to 64, 71, 79, and 91. The latter three figures came in victories.

Judging from his works at Keeneland over the last month or so, he looks ready for another forward move in Saturday's Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway. Those drills have been swift, capped by a five-furlong breeze Tuesday in 59 seconds for trainer John Ward.

Matched against a more battle-tested group in the Holiday Cheer, led by Rouse the Cat, he may be overlooked to some extent.

Being 2 for 3 on Polytrack, and by a quality synthetic sire in Maria's Mon, Darling Mon is worth playing to score a minor upset.

La Brea: Country Star can fire fresh

In handicapping Saturday's Grade 1 La Brea, I suspect many handicappers will focus their attention on those proven sprinting, considering the race's seven-furlong distance.

But given how the Pro-Ride track played during the Oak Tree meet - when closers making wide moves performed better than over dirt tracks - I prefer to back a filly who is proven on synthetic tracks and possesses the turn of foot to capitalize.

That filly is Country Star, who finished 2007 as one of the top 2-year-old fillies in the country, following victories in the Grade 1 Alcibiades and Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet.

Following a dull spring, she picked up an important confidence-building victory at Saratoga on Aug. 18, and moving from turf to a synthetic track, she looks poised to fire fresh.

Although untested racing one turn, she should relish what should be a quick pace with Indyanne and Indian Blessing in the lineup.