11/29/2006 12:00AM

Dirt just what Tasha's Delight needed

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Tasha's Delight ended 2005 on the turf, and after she was transferred to trainer Jeff Mullins for this year, he kept her on the turf, too. That didn't go so well. She lost four straight races. After Del Mar ended, however, Mullins moved Tasha's Delight back to the dirt and returned her to sprinting. That has rejuvenated her career.

Tasha's Delight has won twice in her last three starts, including a victory over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track surface Nov. 9 in a second-level allowance field. She is moving up in class for Friday's $53,000 Autumn Stakes, but her sharp form and a pace scenario that appears to be in her favor combine to make her the one to beat.

The Autumn is a restricted stakes at seven furlongs for fillies and mares. Seven entered, but none has sharp early speed. Tasha's Delight, who usually lays just off the pace, might very well inherit the lead and be able to set soft fractions.

After moving away from the turf, Tasha's Delight won a first-level allowance race at Fairplex, was fourth in a second-level allowance at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, and then won here at Hollywood. Mullins said returning to a sprint distance and racing on dirt or Cushion Track combined to contribute to her improvement.

"I think she really likes this track," Mullins said at his Hollywood Park barn Wednesday morning. "She ran a big race at Santa Anita, but she didn't like that track. She wasn't striding out well on it. This track is a little more forgiving. And she drew good, too."

Tasha's Delight starts from post 6, an ideal spot in an elongated sprint.

"One turn has been a key with her," Mullins said.

The Brazilian filly Notre Dame returns from New York, where she won once in three starts for trainer Bobby Frankel. She has been favored in her last six starts, but owns only one victory. She finished fourth in her last start Sept. 22 at Belmont Park, but Frankel said she was "horsing," or in season.

"She's from the Southern Hemisphere, and that's the start of the breeding season down there," Frankel said.

Catch My Fancy ran poorly in the one-mile Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar in her last start. She has been freshened, and returns to a sprint.

Baby Melody makes her first start on this circuit for trainer Neil Drysdale. An Argentine import, she ran twice on the turf in Maryland and Kentucky for trainer Michael Matz before she was sent west.

"I'm worried about that horse," Mullins said. "A lot of turf horses move forward on this track."