04/16/2008 11:00PM

Coco Belle returns off rare dud


She's fast, she has class, and she has handled turf. In other words, Coco Belle comes into Saturday's $55,000 Monterey Handicap at Bay Meadows with a lot of assets. Still, the Southern California invader didn't exactly scare them away, as the five-furlong turf race for fillies and mares drew a field of 10.

The reason for her opponents' optimism? Well, good as Coco Belle has been she does come into this on a bit of a downer. Her foes are likely hoping she repeats her last race, a sixth-place finish in the Honest Lady on Feb. 24 at Santa Anita. Coco Belle also has to run on a surface she has tried just once. She chased the pace in that race, a five-furlong sprint at Del Mar last August, and stayed on well to be second, three lengths clear of third.

Coco Belle, trained by John Sadler, had a superb 2007 season, winning three times, including the Ms. Woodford at Monmouth Park on the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup undercard. The Honest Lady is her only start since then.

Coco Belle carries co-high weight of 119 pounds and rider Juan Ochoa.

Reba Is Tops, also at 119 pounds, comes into the Monterey in peak form for trainer Bud Klokstad. She doesn't have quite the resume of Coco Belle and has never tried turf, but she has won 7 of 11, including 3 of her last 4, and the one loss came by a nose. She has been off for almost two months since winning the Bay Meadows Distaff Sprint on Feb. 23.

There's quite a bit of speed signed up here, which could set things up nicely for Gentle Charmer. A 6-year-old mare, Gentle Charmer hasn't run since finishing eighth in the Jan. 26 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf. That race drew a field worthy of a graded stakes, so this is surely a better spot. The last time she sprinted on turf, Gentle Charmer rallied strongly to win the California Cup Distaff down the hill at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. Frank Alvarado rides at 118 pounds.