02/20/2002 1:00AM

Generous Rosi tough off the turf


NEW ORLEANS - The last time Generous Rosi raced at Fair Grounds, you barely could find him. But that was before trainer Niall O'Callaghan came up with the brilliant idea of turning a turf horse into a dirt horse.

On Friday, Generous Rosi makes his first start of the season in Fair Grounds's featured ninth race, a high-end route allowance that has attracted a good field of nine, including a Tom Tomillo-trained entry.

Generous Rosi was bred in England and has grass blood coursing through his veins, but don't tell him that. When O'Callaghan experimented with Generous Rosi on dirt last summer, the turnaround in his form was dramatic. Generous Rosi went from a struggling third-level allowance horse on grass - he lost two such races here last season - to a Grade 3 winner on dirt.

A second-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last October led to a trip to the Far East for the Japan Cup Dirt in late November, where Generous Rosi, along with the rest of an American contingent that included Lido Palace, failed to make an impact. O'Callaghan said Generous Rosi got sick right after he arrived in Japan, and that his physical condition could have compromised his performance in the race in which he finished ninth.

The 7-year-old Generous Rosi went back into steady training soon after returning to the U.S., O'Callaghan said, and he has worked steadily at Payson Park for his seasonal bow. Generous Rosi, who will be ridden by Robby Albarado, shipped to Fair Grounds earlier this week. O'Callaghan said he does not have a specific schedule mapped out for the horse. "I just want to get him going again," O'Callaghan said.

Generous Rosi, whose best races have come when he leads early, is one of several pace elements in the race. Dixieland Diamond, R. Little Redhead, and perhaps Kombat Kat figure to show early speed as well, and a fast pace would aid logical contenders Red Mountain and Tahkodha Hills.

Red Mountain has run well in all three of his starts at this meet, two on dirt and one on turf. He beat San Pedro, who returned to win the Louisiana Handicap, in a dirt allowance race Dec. 17, then fought an inside speed bias while finishing third in the Colonel Bradley Stakes Jan. 5, and was second to the ultra-sharp Talkmeister on turf Jan. 21.

Tahkodha Hills found the water too deep when he finished eighth in the Whirlaway Handicap on Feb. 10, but was third in the Diplomat Way Handicap, his previous start.

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