05/12/2005 12:00AM

Forest Grove has first dirt stakes in sights

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Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTOS
Forest Grove won turf stakes back East before going to Eoin Harty's barn.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When Forest Grove arrived in California last fall after winning two minor turf stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher on the East Coast, the intent was to start him in stakes on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita.

Little did owners Aaron and Marie Jones and trainer Eoin Harty know at the time, but would develop into a promising sprinter on the main track.

After placing in two stakes on dirt in recent months, Forest Grove will try for his first stakes win on the surface in Saturday's $150,000 Los Angeles Times Handicap over six furlongs at Hollywood Park.

The race will be Forest Grove's first start since a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park April 14. Forest Grove rallied from fourth in that race to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Top Commander. Harty said he felt that luck worked against Forest Grove that day.

"I thought he should have won," Harty said. "He tried to jump a shadow in the stretch near the sixteenth pole, and I think that cost him the win."

In the Los Angeles Times Handicap, a Grade 3, Forest Grove has drawn the rail against five opponents, all of whom have won or placed in stakes this year.

The field features two stakes winners from the Santa Anita meeting - Shadow of Illinois, who won the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on turf on April 18, and , who won the Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap Jan. 2.

The pace in Saturday's race is expected to be set by Hombre Rapido and Woke Up Dreamin, who were second and third behind Areyoutalkintome in the El Conejo. was later second in the Palos Verdes Handicap.

Tsigane has his first outing since a third-place finish in the $1 million Godolphin Mile in Dubai March 26. He led to early stretch that day, but is likely to face a quicker pace on Saturday.

Forest Grove drew the rail, something Harty did not want to see. "I hate to be on the rail," he said.

But Forest Grove could be well placed if jockey Corey Nakatani can position him behind front-runners Hombre Rapido and Woke Up Dreamin.

Those two could be joined by Areyoutalkintome, trainer Doug O'Neill said. Areyoutalkintome disputed the lead in the El Conejo over 5 1/2 furlongs, but never reached the front in the Tiznow Stakes over 7 1/2 furlongs on April 24. He faded to finish a well-beaten fifth.

"You need to stay after him a little bit," O'Neill said. "He's probably better near the front end."