02/04/2004 1:00AM

Forecast says confusion reigns

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NEW ORLEANS - Go ahead and handicap the Fair Grounds Friday feature, but be prepared to call an audible.

Race 9, an open allowance, was carded at about 7 1/2 furlongs on turf, but heavy rain is forecast here Wednesday through Friday, and it's likely the race will be moved to dirt.

A surface switch would require a major strategic repositioning, depending on who scratches from the race, and whether the two also-eligibles draw into the field. This pair, and Neon Shadow, are the top dirt horses entered, and both would have an excellent chance on the main track.

On turf, the race boils down to - confusion. Rahy's Secret, Majestic Thief, Holy Conflict, Investor's Dream, Cashel Castle, and Royal Spy - all of them have at least a chance if the race remains on grass.

Start with , who rebounded from two of the worse races he'd ever run to win an optional claiming race here Jan. 15. Holy Conflict is one of two winners this meet for trainer Greg Geier, who took over Gene Cilio's string of horses here when Cilio died last fall. Seventh in a listed stakes at Hawthorne last October, Holy Conflict was a dull eighth Jan. 3 in the Colonel Bradley Handicap, and this over a turf course he typically relished.

"He didn't like the grass at all in the Bradley," Geier said, "but the other day, he really handled it well. I knew he was a better horse than he showed in the Bradley. He really likes it down here. He's doing excellent right now."

Holy Conflict is out if the race comes off turf, Geier said. But many of the other turf contenders have been able to transfer their form to dirt. Majestic Thief won a dirt allowance race here last meet, while Investor's Dream was third in an off-the-turf race here Dec. 14.

For Cashel Castle, the race's two-turn configuration probably is a greater hurdle than the surface. Royal Spy, off from April to Jan. 15, probably still is working his way back into peak fitness, but he has wins on both fast and wet dirt.

Still, Seainsky and Neon Shadow look a bit better. Seainsky was second to Spritely Walker, the best Louisiana-bred route horse in training, the last time he ran. Neon Shadow, a 10-year-old with plenty of life in his legs, finished third to Badge of Silver in a sprint comeback race seemingly designed to set him up for a route start. Namely, this one.