04/09/2008 11:00PM

Dahlia a 2-horse race - if it stays on grass


Mother Nature could foul up Laurel Park's plans for Maryland's first turf stakes of the season.

Weather forecasts that call for rain Friday night and a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms on Saturday could mean Saturday's $80,000 Dahlia, a one-mile race for fillies and mares, will be shifted from the grass course to the main track - where it was contested in its first three runnings from 1985 to 1988.

If the Dahlia stays on grass, it's fairly simple. The race boils down to Lady Digby and Mary Louhana, who finished second and third behind former champion juvenile filly Dreaming of Anna in the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs a month ago.

Lady Digby, who was 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Mary Louhana over yielding ground in the 1 1/8-mile Hillsborough, is still eligible for a second-level allowance. Her trainer, Graham Motion, won the 2006 Dahlia with 4-5 favorite Sweet Talker and boasts a 31 percent win rate at Laurel's meet.

Mary Louhana, a 5-year-old who began her career racing in Europe, needed 18 starts before finally winning her maiden last December at Tampa. She hasn't been worse than third in three subsequent starts, including a first-level allowance victory in February.

Leigh Delacour, Mary Louhana's trainer, owns a good 4-for-19 record with a profitable $2.63 return on investment in turf races the past three years.

Montecito ran well in a pair of turf races at Delaware Park last summer, but she has been idle since November and her trainer, John Pregman, is 0 for 27 with turf horses returning off long layoffs.

The Dahlia would become much more difficult to decipher if it moves to the main track and conditions are sloppy or muddy. Although several in the nine-horse lineup are better on dirt, none truly excels over a wet surface.

Keep on Talking owns the best off track record, with 2 wins in 7 starts, but earned Beyer Speed Figures of 39 and 56 in her last two starts on non-fast dirt tracks. Her last win over a wet track came way back in December 2005.

A wet track might help Take a Check, a 6-year-old mare who is just 1 for 16 the past two years. Although 0 for 5 over wet surfaces, Take a Check did record a 91 Beyer finishing fourth going a mile locally in the 2006 Gala Lil. A similar figure would probably be good enough to win the Dahlia.