12/05/2008 12:00AM

Good signs for Lady Digby in Bayakoa

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - How can you tell when a horse might be rounding back into her best form in her first race after a vacation? One favorable sign is that she makes a wide rally from the rear half of the pack in the middle of the race, reaches striking distance, then runs out of steam and either maintains position or loses ground late. The idea is that she ran a strong race but wasn't quite fit enough to do her best.

That's exactly what Lady Digby did when she finished sixth in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap on Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs. That was her return from a layoff of 16 weeks, so it was not a surprise when she lost one length and one position during the last furlong of that 1 1/8-mile turf race. On paper, that performance could set her up for a big effort that would enable her to win the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sunday. But the handicapping process is a bit more complicated than that, so there are other factors to consider.

First, the gap between her starts is much shorter this time, with a 22-day break. That can set a filly up for regression next time, and that could turn out to be the case with Lady Digby, especially since she often has been given more than a month between races in the past. Another factor to consider is that the turf course was listed as yielding in her return. That designation, the slow time of the race, and the high 43 track variant all indicate that the turf course was deep and tiring that day, so it is possible that her performance was taxing enough to cause her to need extra rest between races for that reason alone.

But there also are reasons for optimism. Trainer Graham Motion is highly capable, and it is encouraging to see that he shows a good record with his starters second time back from layoffs of 45 through 180 days, with 22 percent wins and a profitable $2.28 average return for each $2 bet on his horses in that situation. That win percentage looks even better when you note that it is higher than his 17 percent overall win rate this year.

Another factor to consider is that Lady Digby is a turf specialist, with 12 of her 14 career starts made on that surface. Will she run as well in her first race on Hollywood's Cushion Track? Although each type of synthetic racing surface is somewhat different from the others, it is a positive sign that Lady Digby ran twice on synthetic surfaces as a 2-year-old and performed well both times, winning her debut on Woodbine's Polytrack and then finishing second there on the jump into allowance company second time out.

Lady Digby has often been a closer in her races, and that is likely to be the case again versus the faster fractions she will probably see on the move from turf. How will that running style fit on Cushion Track? Early and tactical speed have been a benefit more often than not in recent sprint races at Hollywood, but that hasn't been the case in recent route races. During the five race days from Nov. 28 through Dec. 5, the six route races on Cushion Track were dominated by closers. The fields in most of those races were small, but it is still significant that the winners rallied from next-to-last at the first call in four of the six. Take a look at the results at Hollywood for Friday and Saturday to see if that trend continues.

A return to top form would make Lady Digby the filly to beat. But if she doesn't move forward Sunday, this race would be wide open.

Double Trouble won the Grade 1 Santa Maria at Santa Anita in February and then finished third in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita. She finished fifth, fifth, and eighth in three subsequent Grade 2 stakes races, then headed for the sidelines in late June. If the time off helped, she would be hard to handle.

Model finished a distant second in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland, then dropped in class to win the Its in the Air in her first race at Hollywood. She has been quite consistent while finishing among the first three in 12 of 13 career starts and should be a serious threat.

Baroness Thatcher finished third in the Grade 1 Test and then missed by only a nose in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga last year. With the exception of a loss by a head in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, her form has been less impressive this year. But she was a game winner in an allowance race at Keeneland in her return from a freshening and has since returned to the Patrick Biancone barn. She has trained well over the last two months and might be ready for another good effort.