04/23/2003 11:00PM

Ladies Din faces tough task


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The return of Ladies Din and the prospect of a turf course softened by rain didn't scare anyone away from Saturday's Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile at Bay Meadows.

Whether highweight Ladies Din is scratched from the race depends on the amount of rain the course takes between Thursday's entry time and Saturday's running. An 8-year-old, Ladies Din has not run since winning the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park last May 27.

But for the seven other runners, the lure of a $200,000 purse and the fact the race's highweight will be starting for the first time in 11 months made it a likely spot.

"Any time you take a horse, particularly an older horse, who has been off almost a year, they will probably need a race," said trainer Steve Specht, who entered the speedy I'madrifter. "Maybe he outclasses us and wins anyway, but it's hard to come back like that."

I'madrifter just earned his first graded victory with a wire-to-wire score in the one-mile, Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap on March 29 at Golden Gate Fields. He has run just once on the turf, setting the pace before losing to Decarchy in last year's Grade 3 Tanforan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

"He didn't give up too badly, and I think a tougher horse won that race," Specht said. "If you go back and look at that race, at the sixteenth pole he was still right there. At a mile, I know they pick it up sooner, but this is a perfect mile horse."

Bit of Luck, a wire-to-wire winner in his two U.S. starts, will probably offer early competition. Surprise Halo has set the pace in both the Tanforan and Golden Gate Breeders' Cup handicaps in his last two starts, but those were paceless races, and he won't have to go for the lead here.

Specht has prayed for rain before in hopes a race would be moved from the turf to a muddy or sloppy main track, on which I'madrifter excels. He knows this race won't come off the turf and is concerned that a softer course might hinder I'madrifter.

Ninebanks, who won the Grade 2 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap on a yielding course March 16, could be the one to beat if Ladies Din needs a race.

He loves the course, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer opted to keep him at home rather than run in Hollywood Park's California Gold Rush on Saturday.

"I have a rider [Ron Warren Jr.]who rides the horse very well, understands the horse, and understands where he should be," Hollendorfer said. "It has worked out well."