02/19/2003 1:00AM

Do you favor experience or precocity?


NEW ORLEANS - Winter's Quest needed four races to win, but when she got it right, she looked good winning a maiden race on Jan. 18 at Fair Grounds. Forest Shadows didn't waste any time leaving the maiden ranks. She won in her debut here in a turf sprint on Jan. 6.

Take your pick - experience or precocity. The two fillies and seven others square off Friday in a first-level turf route at about 1 1/16 miles. The race is restricted to 3-year-old fillies.

With Winter's Quest you get seasoning and a pair of two-turn trips under her belt. Forest Shadows hasn't even run in a route race, but what if she's even better going long than short?

"We think she's been looking to go long all the time," said trainer Al Stall.

Forest Shadows won a schooling race at five furlongs on dirt, but her pedigree, by Woodman out of a mare by Sunshine Forever, suggests stamina more than speed. Even so, when a hole opened along the inside in her maiden voyage, Forest Shadows had the acceleration to fire through it. She kicked to the wire and won by three-quarters of a length.

"She has talent," said Stall, who trains Forest Shadows for owners John Phillips and Pam Gartin. "She's been steady right along."

Winter's Quest debuted long before Forest Shadows was close to making her first start, running fourth in a one-mile maiden race last Sept. 20 at Belmont. Second on dirt in her next start, she was second in her first Fair Grounds race before she broke through with a win. Racing in mid-pack behind a tepid pace, Winter's Quest rallied wide and won going away, running her last quarter-mile in well under 24 seconds.

"The first couple races I was a little confused if she was turf or dirt," said Billy Badgett, who trains Winter's Quest for C K Woods Stable. "The first time down here she was a little green, but she's learned with every race. I think she's maturing. Her works all along have been pretty good, but in a race with lots of horses around her, it took her a couple times to figure that out."

Others in the race deserve respect. Takealookatmenow was 56-1 when she won her maiden going long on turf here Jan. 31. Greenback Gal and Prom Date have run competitively at the first allowance level. If the race is moved to dirt because of rain, Red Azalea will try to lead all the way from the rail.

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