02/22/2005 12:00AM

Chitchat Chitchat a factor, rain or shine cutline

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NEW ORLEANS - At least half of the horses in Thursday's feature race at Fair Grounds, a $40,000 optional claimer slated for a mile on the turf course, are entered with the expectation that predicted rain throughout the week will wash the race off the grass.

An off-the-turf scenario in the race for fillies and mares, 4 years old and up, would create a rematch between Chitchat Chitchat and Pleasant Emily, who finished one-two in the same condition last month when the race came off the turf. led all the way that day, a task that will be more difficult Thursday from the outside post.

If the weatherman is wrong and the race stays on the grass, Chitchat Chitchat would still be in the hunt. A 5-year-old mare by Arch, trained by Gamaliel Vazquez and ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr., Chitchat Chitchat is 3-4-1 in 14 lifetime grass starts, including a victory over the Fair Grounds turf course in December.

, trained by Dallas Stewart, has been competitive in all three of her starts at this meet. She just missed catching Witch Approval on the grass in December, settled for second to Chitchat Chitchat, then ran third on the turf in this condition last out. Pleasant Emily, a 4-year-old Pleasant Tap filly, is 1 for 1 on an off track, so Stewart is probably hoping for rain.

, second to the brilliant Shadow Cast in last year's Silverbulletday, is another who would welcome a shift to a sloppy track. The 4-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy, trained by Bobby Barnett, has raced only once since October, however, and appears short on conditioning.

, a Runaway Groom mare trained by Danny Pish, has won only once in 14 grass starts but is 1 for 1 on an off track. The Neil Pessin-trained Shari's Gold Sole is also more accomplished on off tracks than turf, with no wins in five turf starts and a 1-2-1 record on wet surfaces. Get Set is unproven on either surface, but she worked well for trainer Malcolm Pierce before running evenly on Feb. 6 in her first start since August.

, a William Farish homebred trained by Neil Howard, showed promise as a 2-year-old but has yet to reproduce her best form since returning to the races in December after a year off. An A.P. Indy filly, Sheer Luck has finished fourth in all three starts at the meet, but Howard's horses have been running into form at this meet and it would not be surprising to see her improve dramatically.