11/02/2001 1:00AM

Everyone has a story in the Las Palmas


PHOENIX - Nine horses will go in Sunday's Grade 2 Las Palmas at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Santa Anita with an interesting mix, of horses which will give handicappers some options.

Many of them are coming from different directions. You have a horse with unquestionable back-class, trying to recapture her best form. You have another rock-solid at the level, but not invincible. There's a 3-year-old filly, looking to make her mark against elders after doing quite well against the best of her generation.

There's a filly who hinted at big-time ability in Europe and has come to the United States, attempting to make her mark. And there's another who after being competitive in allowance ranks appears to have turned the corner and is out for blood among graded stakes types.

An alphabetical synopsis of the major contenders:

Al Desima: There was a time she was considered a good, solid allow-ance filly. That time has passed. She emerged from the pack this summer and early fall, scoring thirds in the Grade 3 Royal Heroine, Grade 2 Palomar, and Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon. While she has proven she can be competitive, is there something to make you believe she's ready for a breakthrough, that she has a forward move in her that can put her over the top?

It has taken some time, but trainer Paddy Gallagher may be on to something. She seems to have blossomed with more ground. But is it enough to matter at this level?

Approximate odds: 12-1

Blue Moon: Showed quality in Europe at 2 and 3, then validated it by coming to the U.S. last fall and finishing second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. Then, she vanished. Trainer Ron Ellis took his time bringing her back, and it may pay dividends. She returned in a mile optional claimer at Santa Anita Sept. 27 and stormed home an impressive winner.

That was nice, but she wasn't drilling this caliber. The water gets much deeper Sunday, but is she ready to take that next step?

Approximate odds: 3-1

Golden Apples: There's no denying the quality. She came from Europe and promptly won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, beating the likes of Affluent, Reine de Romance, and Voodoo Dancer. She then backed it up. In this year's Queen Elizabeth she was a game, tough-luck second to Affluent.

There is one big concern: How does she, as a 3-year-old, stack up against older horses? Can she sit back, as is her style, and not only go get the likes of Tout Charmant, but in doing so also outkick the likes of Janet and Blue Moon?

Approximate odds: 9-2

Janet: Her connections gave serious consideration to plunking down some big money to supplement her to the Filly and Mare Turf. In light of how Banks Hill ran, their defection was a brilliant move. But the original idea underscores what they have here. Darrell Vienna trains a very good mare, one good enough to handle the best of this division in the West. She has done particularly well over this layout, and so long as she's kept in the clear she figures an ominous presence turning for home. But she doesn't really have much margin for error, and what if she's already peaked while Blue Moon or someone else is moving forward?

Approximate odds: 6-5

Tout Charmant: There's a huge cloud of doubt hanging over her. As wonderful as she has been, as classy as she is, can she be expected to ever get close to the form that almost got her a championship last year? Remember, she had a severe bout of colic last winter that necessitated surgery. She was understandably dull in her comeback at Del Mar, but did show more spark finishing fourth while defending her WinStar Galaxy crown at Keeneland. But if trainer Ron McAnally thought she was close to all the way back, why did he avoid the Filly and Mare Turf? Just considering what she has gone through physically can she be expected to come close to her old form?

That being said, she showed some of the old verve when she got clear at Keeneland, and all reports are she's working smartly for this.

Approximate odds: 5-2

Conclusion: Obviously there's no money to be made by hooking up Janet and Tout Charmant. It's one thing to cover them both in pick-three's, the pick-four, and pick-six, but from an exacta standpoint it's pretty much worthless here. So, in order to optimize your chance for profit you need to take a stand, to a point, against one of them. I will avoid Tout Charmant. She has been a lovely mare, thoroughly professional and classy, but it's our money, and with all the questions about whether she can get back to being the Tout Charmant we all know and respect, coupled with the short price, I will take a pass.

Janet is extremely reliable. Her Yellow Ribbon win here Sept. 29 was a gem. You don't just blast by Tranquility Lake on turf. She's a must-use. Al Desima is coming to hand but this spot is too tough. Golden Apples may well be a big, important filly down the road. We'll pick her to win this race - next year. The 3-year-old may simply be giving away too much to her elders in terms of seasoning, maturity, and experience, not to mention style.

That brings us to Blue Moon. All indications after last year's effort in the Queen Elizabeth was that she would make noise here in 2001. Well, she has been absent, but once she reemerged she did so with gusto. She's relatively fresh and still has plenty of room to develop. And with the presence of Janet and Tout Charmant you get a much better price here than you would otherwise have seen.

So, my play here is Blue Moon to win, and exacta boxes of Blue Moon and Janet. And just to be on the safe side I will also play a smaller, save exacta box of Blue Moon and Tout Charmant.