11/27/2001 1:00AM

For Elise should take to turf or dirt

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NEW ORLEANS - As is typical at the beginning of a race meet, the two divisions of an optional claiming race Thursday at Fair Grounds are all about comebackers. In the eighth race, seven of the eight entrants haven't raced in more than a month, and half the eight horses in the ninth race come off a month-plus layoff. Both races are for fillies and mares going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

This lack of recent activity complicates things enough, and the prospect of inclement weather doesn't make matters any easier. Fair Grounds's races were off the turf Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and with rain forecast here for Tuesday and Wednesday, these races could easily be moved to the main track.

Turf or dirt, For Elise is a contender in the eighth. A Dumaani filly owned by Michael Rainier and trained by Al Stall Jr., For Elise won her debut here in February sprinting on the turf, though she has not returned to grass in four races since. For Elise won an entry-level allowance at Arlington by more than five lengths in June, and was second to the good filly Spanish Glitter on Aug. 3.

But later that month, in her first try beyond a sprint, For Elise fell apart in a one-mile allowance race, beaten 28 lengths after leading almost into the stretch, and she has not raced since. Robby Albarado, a late arrival to this meet, has the call on For Elise.

For Elise faces strong opposition from Pretty Gale, who has been off since Sept. 7. Pretty Gale's trainer, Frank "Bobby" Springer, has two wins and a second from his first three starters at the meet.

Pretty Gale runs in a turf sprint for the first time in her career Thursday. Pretty Gale has shown speed in her route races but should be outrun early at this sprint distance.

The ninth race may be the stronger of the two divisions, with accomplished turf sprinters Boo's Brass Lady and Wilma Lee utilizing the $40,000 claiming option to take a crack at a $34,000 purse. The race also marks the return of Dixie Kitten, who has not raced since finishing third at 1-2 odds in an Oaklawn allowance race early in March.

A Sam David-trained 3-year-old filly, Dixie Kitten was touted as a potential star early in her 2-year-old year. She hasn't attained that status yet, but Dixie Kitten did finish second to the multiple stakes winner Hattiesburg in a turf sprint here last meet, and becomes an even likelier winner if the race is rained off grass.

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