04/22/2008 12:00AM

Girls seek black type in Bewitch


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trainer Al Stall Jr. had another productive winter back home in New Orleans, with his horses winning 25 races and earning more than $925,000 at the Fair Grounds. One of those winners was Final Refrain, who makes her stakes debut Thursday at Keeneland in the Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes.

"We're a lot like everybody else in the Bewitch," Stall said this week at Churchill Downs. "Trying to get a little black type, all thinking our fillies can stay the distance."

At 1 1/2 miles on turf, the $150,000 Bewitch drew 12 fillies and mares from various destinations, although most spent the winter in south Florida. Five of them already have had a race at the Keeneland spring meet, including Final Refrain, who finished a close third in an April 11 turf allowance behind Lady Carlock and Viva La Flag.

"We'll see if we're coming back a little quick, but my filly has done just fine since that last race," Stall said.

Viva La Flag, trained by Shug McGaughey, also will run in the Bewitch, quite possibly as the favorite in what shapes up a wide-open betting race.

There are a host of other possibilities in this 47th running of the Bewitch, which goes as the eighth of nine Thursday races, including Communique, Palmilla, and the uncoupled Michael Matz duo of Eres Magica and Tejida.

Communique rallied strongly to win an off-the-turf entry-level allowance on Polytrack on opening day, April 4, ending a nine-race losing streak.

Palmilla, away nearly 10 months, returns to action after having two sharp recent breezes over the Keeneland Polytrack for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

Eres Magica, a Group 1 winner in her native Chile, has fared respectably in seven starts in the United States, capped by a victory last summer in the Omnibus at Monmouth Park.

Tejida, an improving mare, is graded-placed after most recently finishing second in the Grade 3 The Very One at Gulfstream Park.

The Bewitch was run on dirt until 1986, then lengthened from 1 1/8 miles to its present distance in 1995. The 2007 running was won by Safari Queen, ridden by John Velazquez and trained by Todd Pletcher.

The Bewitch is the sister half of the twin turf marathons that bring down the curtain on the spring meet. The Grade 2, $200,000 Elkhorn Stakes for male turf horses is the closing-day feature Friday.