12/02/2003 1:00AM

Feet should hold up for Salty Farma


NEW ORLEANS - With Salty Farma, performance often comes down to her feet.

Throughout her up-and-down career, her large, dish-shaped feet have been susceptible to quarter cracks and general deterioration, and as any horseman will tell you, chronic foot problems often radiate upward, causing unsoundness in other parts of the leg.

But when Salty Farma's feet are holding up - and her trainer, Dave Kassen, says they are now - she is a tough mare. She won consecutive grass races at Fair Grounds two seasons ago and blew out an allowance field on dirt here last season. In the featured ninth race Thursday, she will try for her first win since March, after seven straight losses.

Salty Farma has eight rivals in a high-end turf allowance race at about one mile, including Academic Angel, who emerged as a top stakes horse in the region this year, and may be as good as Salty Farma at the moment.

Salty Farma's most recent start was her best since March. Her race Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs was rained off grass and Salty Farma was beaten, but she put in a bid and was second behind Miss Lodi.

"I think Miss Lodi's a really nice horse, and we just got outrun," said Kassen, who trains Salty Farma for Edward Weaver and Larry Bielfeldt.

Salty Farma "is doing really well right now," Kassen said. "She's had quarter cracks, but that's under control. Her feet are holding up real good right now."

And then there is the Fair Grounds grass course, which regularly produces unusually slow fractions and late-closing winners.

"There are horses for courses," said Kassen. "This is a unique grass course, and she likes it."

So, too, may Academic Angel, who won her only start on the Fair Grounds turf two seasons ago. A 4-year-old trained by Steve Asmussen and owned by Asmussen's brother, Cash, Academic Angel has put together a strong season, with four wins in eight starts, including stakes victories at Louisiana Downs in her last two races.

Academic Angel and Salty Farma have similar running styles and should race close to a moderate pace, with the longshot Comalagold the probable early leader. Mexican Moonlight and Flager also could be serious players in the sprint from the top of the stretch to the finish.