03/18/2005 1:00AM

Grass at long last

Benoit & Associates
Depending on turf conditions for the Santa Ana, Bobby Frankel has two good chances with Megahertz (top) and Barancella.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The decision to campaign Megahertz another year was both sporting and economically feasible. After owner Michael Bello and trainer Bobby Frankel figured the 6-year-old Megahertz could bang out another $500,000 on the track, it made sense to keep her in training.

Frankel explained that is only worth a certain amount of money as a broodmare, and Bello enjoys watching her run.

"She's a fresh horse," Frankel said. "She can make half what she's worth this year."

The earnings calculation, of course, is based on Megahertz actually competing in races.

The problem is neither Megahertz, nor any top female turf runner in California, has had the opportunity. Wet weather forced the last three scheduled turf stakes over to the main track, which makes the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita noteworthy - it will the be first graded turf stakes for fillies and mares since the Matriarch on Nov. 28 at Hollywood Park.

Though it started raining again midday Friday, expectations are that the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana will stay on turf.

"There's no way they can take this off," said trainer Ben Cecil, who entered and scratched Hoh Buzzard three times when turf stakes switched to dirt - the Dahlia on Dec. 20, San Gorgonio on Jan. 8, and Buena Vista on Feb. 21.

Barring scratches, seven fillies and mares will run in the $150,000 Santa Ana, led by Grade 1 winner Megahertz, the 122-pound highweight. The class of the field, she has won 10 races and $1.4 million from 28 starts, and is seeking redemption. A closer with a devastating turn of late speed, Megahertz won the Santa Ana last year but was disqualified for interference.

The only thing that worries Frankel is the condition of the course. "I don't think soft turf is her favorite thing," he said.

If rain proves her undoing, Frankel will start a suitable secondary contender. Barancella has not raced since finishing a troubled second behind Ticker Tape in a Grade 1 for 3-year-olds last fall. Does the lightly raced filly have a chance Sunday? Frankel answered the question with another question - "How good is Ticker Tape? Would she have a shot?"

She would. Ticker Tape has won seven races and $1.2 million, and Frankel believes Barancella could have outfinished Ticker Tape last fall with a different trip.

Although has won just 1 of 6, she has raced mostly in graded and group stakes. She fits on class, and Frankel added, "She can handle the soft."

Barancella will be coupled with , a Grade 2 winner racing for the first time since winning a $100,000 stakes on soft turf at Golden Gate.

Trainer Wally Dollase will start two. They are Katdogawn, who finished a troubled third in a minor stakes Jan. 27, and Stupendous Miss, who won a two-other-than allowance in smart fashion on Feb. 18 in her U.S. debut.

Dollase said Katdogawn "is tight as a drum, she's fit, and she should run a good race."

He admits that Stupendous Miss is taking a big step up in class.

"Yes, but we got a nice light weight," said Dollase, noting jockey Victor Espinoza is capable of riding at 113 pounds, the assigned weight. "I'm very high on her."

But why should she fit in a Grade 2?

"The way she's training, the way's she's acting, and she's got a super pedigree," Dollase said. "All those things."

While the condition of the turf adds doubt, Megahertz enters the Santa Ana as the one to beat.