12/15/2007 12:00AM

Dahlia no-brainer - if Nashoba's Key runs

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Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Nashoba's Key may skip Sunday's Dahlia and run in the Sunshine Millions Classic next month.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - With Nashoba's Key in the field for Sunday's $150,000 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park, the race features one of the finest turf females in the world.

Without her, a distinct possibility, the Grade 2 Dahlia becomes an open race for several fillies and mares that have yet to win a race of this stature.

It may not be until Sunday that trainer Carla Gaines decides what to do with Nashoba's Key.

"I swear I don't know what I'm going to do," Gaines said Thursday.

The Dahlia would be Nashoba's Key's first start since her fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27, the only loss of her eight-race career.

Gaines is considering bypassing the Dahlia in favor of a start against males in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita on Jan. 26.

If she runs in the Dahlia, Nashoba's Key will be heavily favored. She will carry top weight of 123 pounds in search of her sixth stakes win this year.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said on Friday that he will pass the Dahlia with Citronnade, the winner of four stakes this year.

Without Citronnade and Nashoba's Key, fillies and mares such as Black Mamba, Hucking Hot, Lavender Sky, and Meribel have more prominent roles in the Dahlia at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Black Mamba has run second or third in three consecutive graded stakes, including a third behind Nashoba's Key and Citronnade in the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita in September. In each of her recent losses, Black Mamba closed from well off the pace. There may not be a blazing pace to follow in the Dahlia.

"She has been in races where there hasn't been a pace in front of her," trainer John Sadler said.

Hucking Hot, the winner of the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Nov. 10, will be racing against older fillies and mares for the first time. She has yet to win a graded stakes.

"She looks like she fits," trainer Paddy Gallagher said. "I think she's had enough time" between races.

Meribel is winless in her last five starts, since a victory in the restricted Foresta Stakes at Belmont Park in June. Another filly who runs from off the pace, Meribel won the Grade 3 Valley View Stakes at Keeneland in October 2006.

Lavender Sky is making her graded stakes debut, having finished second to Hucking Hot in the Skirball-Kenis.