01/11/2002 1:00AM

Hard to look past 'Sainte'


NEW ORLEANS - In the Sixty Sails, there are at least two salient questions to ask.

How will the newly turned 4-year-olds fare against their elders? And is there any point trying to beat Histoire Sainte at Fair Grounds?

With 14 horses entered in the Sixty Sails, handicappers will find a nearly infinite number of options in the race, which is for fillies and mares at about 1 1/16 miles on turf. The full field comes in spite of the fact that there was another race in this division, the Furl Sail, run here only 16 days ago. But the Furl Sail was rained off turf, helping to pump up the depth of the $75,000 Sixty Sails.

La Recherche and Stal Quest turned 4 on Jan. 1, and in their last race, the Dec. 15 Pago Hop, had the luxury of running against horses in their age bracket. Both ran well that day. La Recherche, who has won three of four starts on the Fair Grounds turf course for trainer Tom Amoss and owners Jill and Mark Winston, set a quick early pace but held on gamely in the stretch to score by a nose over Twilight Tryst and by two noses over Stal Quest, who had shipped in from Maryland for the Pago Hop.

Stal Quest, who's trained by Dale Capuano, started her career as a claiming horse, but improved by many lengths when she was switched to turf. She closed four lengths in the stretch of the Pago Hop, has worked twice since the race, and picks up rider Robby Albarado.

But waiting in the wings is the 6-year-old Histoire Sainte, who performs at Fair Grounds like nowhere else in the U.S. Since being imported to this country two years ago from her native France, Histoire Sainte has won only twice, both times at Fair Grounds, and is the defending champion in the Sixty Sails. Her performance in last year's race, where she wore down the sharp Song For Annie with a powerful stretch run, was exceptionally strong, and a similar sort of effort would probably win this year's race.

Trainer Steve Asmussen attributes Histoire Sainte's local form to Fair Grounds's main track. Horses like Histoire Sainte that race exclusively on turf often do not thrive in their regular training over a track's dirt surface, but Asmussen said Histoire Sainte "is a completely different horse" in her day-to-day exercise here.

With the front-running La Recherche and speedy Silent Emotion likely to contest the pace, the Sixty Sails sets up for a closer such as Histoire Sainte or Lady of Peace. Lady of Peace, who scratched from the Furl Sail, has won five of six starts on the Fair Grounds turf course and put in a sharp workout here Dec. 20.