02/12/2002 1:00AM

Geana Dawn may be the 'now' horse

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ALBANY, Calif. - If Thursday's third race at Golden Gate Fields had been held three months ago, it wouldn't have been the handicapping challenge it is now.

Handicappers looking at the one-mile $12,500 starter allowance turf race for fillies and mares probably would have settled quickly on Deli Dancer. After all, she had won four straight, including her first two starts on the turf.

But Deli Dancer may no longer be the "now" horse in a field with six rival 4-year-old fillies.

The now horse may be Geana Dawn, who has won three straight since being claimed for $6,250 on Nov. 16 by leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer doesn't take credit for seeing anything special in Geana Dawn.

"[Owner] Mark Murphy called and told me if I liked her to claim her," Hollendorfer said.

Geana Dawn won for $12,500, then $16,000 before being slipped into a similar $12,500 starter allowance where she beat Deb's Royal Flush and Lady Victoriate, the second- and third-place finishers who will challenge her again Thursday.

Geana Dawn will be making her turf debut in the race. "We're just trying her on turf," Hollendorfer said. "The availability of the race is the reason."

The fact the race is on the turf makes it a handicapping challenge.

Deli Dancer is the lone entrant with a turf victory. Deb's Royal Flush, who ran a 6 1/2-furlong sprint down Santa Anita's Hillside Turf Course, and Lady Victoriate, winless in two turf starts, are the only others in the field even to start on the turf.

Question No. 1 for handicappers becomes whether Deli Dancer can snap back to life on the turf. Since her last victory, a one-mile turf race at this level at Bay Meadows on Oct. 18, she was sixth in the mud in a $40,000 optional claimer. She was also sixth going a mile in the slop at this level. She was favored both times.

Depending upon the answer to question No. 1, handicappers must determine the value of question No. 2 - how will the turf affect everyone else?

Geana Dawn, with her current form and ability to stalk the pace, should be able to handle the softer turf course.

* Jim Ghidella, northern California director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, will host a new owners seminar Saturday. He will meet fans interested in owning a horse at the north entrance (walk-in gate) at 9:30 a.m. Fans will watch horses work before Ghidella discusses aspects of ownership and answers questions. To RSVP, contact Ghidella at (510) 559-7648.