01/29/2004 1:00AM

Knoll Lake faces worthy challengers


PHOENIX - For a couple years now, Knoll Lake has dared any female sprinter to come up and knock her off her perch. And for the most part she's managed to maintain her position at the top of the pecking order.

But things have been tough on her the past few months, and they don't get any easier when she gives weight in Saturday's $40,000 Princess of Palms Handicap at Turf Paradise. The six-furlong race has a field of six.

Knoll Lake has had a brilliant career. She's won 12 of 25 starts and more than $270,000. Eleven of the wins have come at Turf Paradise. But she has won only one of her last five races, the Mesa Handicap at Turf Paradise on Dec. 13. In her last race, Knoll Lake was third as the 4-5 favorite in the Crystal Gail here Jan. 12, failing to show her customary early speed. That effort looks better since the horse she chased, Channing Way, came back to finish in a dead heat for third in last Saturday's $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.

Trained by Kevin Lewis, Knoll Lake has worked twice since the Crystal Gail, and carries high weight of 122 pounds and regular rider Kelly Bridges on Saturday.

There are a couple of worthy challengers to Knoll Lake, including Miss Pixie, who most recently finished ahead of Knoll Lake in second place in the Crystal Gail. Miss Pixie is a tough veteran - she's run 60 times - and showed some of her old fire in the Crystal Gail at 20-1. She ran in midpack early and closed nicely between horses. Miguel Hernandez rides again for trainer Vann Belvoir at 117 pounds. Miss Pixie worked three furlongs in 34 seconds here Jan. 26.

No Turbulence, from the Eric Kruljac barn, also has defeated Knoll Lake. No Turbulence beat her in the Phoenix Handicap here last October, at this same six-furlong trip. She was most recently third in the Kachina Handicap here Jan. 10, but that race was at a mile. She's likely more comfortable sprinting. Hoogie Drexler rides at 119 pounds.

Another horse of interest is the lightly raced Almost Fooled, who flashed potential here in late 2002 and early 2003, but didn't run for about 11 months. She resurfaced here Dec. 20 and blitzed optional claimers, earning an 82 Beyer. A bullet work of 33.60 for three furlongs on Jan. 26 indicates she might be ready for this class hike. Vince Guerra rides at 116 pounds.