01/02/2012 5:09PM

Fair Grounds: Wild About Marie returns to her niche in turf sprint

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Wild About Marie, after an unsuccessful experiment on dirt in the Claiming Crown, switches back to the grass in Wednesday's fifth race at Fair Grounds.

Quietly, Wild About Marie has become one of the better female turf sprinters in the Midwest, and her proven form in short grass races makes her something of a standout in one of the higher-class races on the Wednesday program at Fair Grounds. But the 3-year-olds in a first-level optional $50,000 claiming race on turf, the nominal feature on the card, look far more difficult to read.

Wild About Marie is set to go in race 5, a 5 1/2-furlong grass race open to $30,000 claimers and $15,000 starter-allowance horses. Wild About Marie fits the latter condition, having suddenly emerged as a formidable racehorse when trainer Jeff Thornbury shifted her to turf sprints in the fall of 2010. Last winter at Fair Grounds, Wild About Marie won an allowance race and two stakes, the Pan Zareta and the Bienville, and in October she captured the $100,000 Buffalo Trace over the Keeneland course.

Bettors are likely – and rightly so -- to forgive Wild About Marie’s most recent start, a seventh-place finish in the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper on Dec. 4 at Fair Grounds. Wild About Marie fit that rich starter-allowance race’s conditions, but she could not transfer her superior turf form to the main track.

“I thought that she was a little better on dirt than she is,” Thornbury said Monday.

Wild About Marie exerted herself so little in the Claiming Crown start that Thornbury believes Wednesday’s race will serve as a useful bridge to the Pan Zareta Stakes on Jan. 21.

“This way, we won’t have to do much between races, and she needs a little tune-up,” he said. “She didn’t get much out of the dirt race.”

Race 7 for 3-year-olds drew a field of nine, only two of whom have won on grass. Icon Ike notched a nose victory in a Dec. 8 turf-sprint maiden race at Fair Grounds, though runner-up Mojo Workin returned to finish just fourth as the even-money favorite in a similar race this past Saturday. Perhaps more talented is Pacific Nights, who finished third to stakes-class Daddy Nose Best in his only previous turf try, a Nov. 26 two-turn allowance race at Churchill Downs.