07/10/2008 12:00AM

French Kiss tries turf to avoid Proud Spell


French Kiss, cross-entered Saturday in the $500,000 Delaware Oaks and the $50,000 Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park, is staying in the Bluegrass State to compete.

Trainer Gary Hartlage said Thursday he considered running French Kiss at Delaware, but decided to start her at Ellis Park after Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell was surprisingly entered in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks, along with stablemate Maren's Meadow.

Although there is no filly of the quality of Proud Spell, the Audubon Oaks is far from a soft spot. A field of 12 was entered for the 1 1/16-mile grass race for 3-year-old fillies, and includes such promising runners as Magical Theater, the fourth-place finisher behind Pure Clan in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes, and recent winners of fast allowance races Ballynoe and Closeout.

The race is so competitive that the morning-line favorite, Magical Theater, is listed as a tepid 9-2.

French Kiss, a half-sister to High Heels, winner of the Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn in 2007, has never raced on turf, but is out of a dam, Ornate, who won the Pleasant Temper Stakes on grass at Kentucky Downs in 2002. Ornate also twice won over the Ellis Park turf course.

High Heels, by E Dubai, has been more effective on dirt, however. She was unplaced in her lone turf start, finishing seventh in the Regret Stakes at Churchill last year.

A daughter of Hussonet, whose offspring are 6 for 51 trying turf for the first time, French Kiss enters the Audubon Oaks with good form, albeit in the first-level allowance ranks. She finished second mostly recently at Churchill Downs on June 8.

"I think she'll run big," said Hartlage. "I'm looking forward to trying her on turf to see how she does."

Regular rider Joe Johnson rides French Kiss, who is owned by Anita Cauley.

Magical Theater, beaten 6 3/4 lengths by eventual American Oaks winner Pure Clan in the Regret, looks poised for a strong effort with the class drop into the Audubon Oaks. She faces Closeout for the second time. Magical Theater beat Closeout by 1 3/4 lengths in a May 16 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Corey Lanerie rides for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Closeout, coming off a 1 1/2-length victory over next-out allowance winner Stealin' Kisses, owns the top last-race Beyer Speed Figure, having posted a 90 Beyer on June 7.