02/22/2006 1:00AM

'Eternal' will be coming strong late


ARCADIA, Calif. - Eternal Melody has fallen short without an apparent alibi in both starts of her comeback. When she runs 1 1/8 miles on turf Friday at Santa Anita, she may not need an excuse.

Five fillies and mares entered the classified allowance, which goes as race 2 and has a $68,000 purse, and Eternal Melody enters as the most likely winner even though conditions favor Dream's. Written for nonwinners of $45,000 at a mile or more since Sept. 1, Dream's sneaks in just under the restrictions.

Dream's won an Oct. 7 stakes in which she earned $41,850. In two subsequent starts she was overmatched against Grade 2 competition, but a class drop Friday makes her a logical contender. The question will be whether she can stay nine furlongs. An import from Chile trained by Ron McAnally, Dream's won her first four U.S. starts at distances of 1 1/16 miles or shorter.

Friday, she loses regular rider Alex Solis and will try to stretch her stamina to a distance she has not tried since fall 2004 in South America. Jon Court rides Dream's, and Solis rides Eternal Melody, a Bobby Frankel-trained horse whose closing style suits the course profile and the likely pace. Closers have fared well on the Santa Anita grass since early January, and Eternal Melody will rally from behind.

, 5 for 18 in her career, is making her third start after being off 17 months. In her last two starts, she has finished second by a length and third by 1 1/2 lengths.

Eternal Melody will have to beat Frankel-trained European import Grand Opening, a listed stakes winner who finished third in a Group 2 stakes. Grand Opening raced on the lead in France and may try to steal it Friday under Patrick Valenzuela. also entered the allowance.

Later on the card, California-bred sprinters go six furlongs in race 7, a $40,000 optional claimer. Watch Over Me is likely to start favored as he drops from an open two-other-than into a first-condition allowance for statebreds, but he might be vulnerable. In two subsequent starts since he won his comeback Nov. 20, which was his first start in a year, he has finished sixth and second. He also has only one published workout since his last start Jan. 12.

Cigar Pal has not raced since December 2004, when he won a fast maiden race in his first start following a long layoff. The field also includes Greatest Hope, Too Mean, First Insight, and Lemon and Rum.