10/25/2002 12:00AM

Lage has filly back on dirt

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - It may be easy, but it probably would be unwise to categorize Dispersed Reward - who runs in Sunday's $60,000-added Golden Poppy Handicap at Bay Meadows - as strictly a turf runner.

At first glance, one might think her connections were looking at a condition book from several years back, when the race was a graded turf fixture.

But trainer Armando Lage sees only method and no madness in the decision to run the 4-year-old filly on the dirt for the first time since June 2001. She has run eight straight turf races since then, recording a stakes win in Florida and three stakes placings in California.

Lage has a filly who is ready to run but has no turf races in sight.

"There's nothing for her," he said. "Looking at the stakes at Golden Gate Fields, there's no turf stakes early in the meeting." Golden Gate opens Nov. 6.

"We'll try her on dirt and see what she does. One of the things the owner mentioned is that she has run good on dirt."

Dispersed Reward has seven rivals in the 1 1/16-mile race, including De Goddaughter, winner of the Oct. 6 Autumn Leaves Handicap, and her stablemate, Aunt Sophie, who finished second by a head.

Bloodstock agent James Ough discovered Dispersed Reward in Florida and bought her along with James Egide.

They brought her to California, stabling her in Southern California with trainer Vladamir Cerin.

She never finished worse than third for Cerin through her first five starts for him, including a third-place finish in last spring's Miss America Handicap over the Longden Turf Course at Bay Meadows.

She finished far back in the grueling 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano against males on April 21, then was given a break.

She was shipped to Lage, making her first start for him in the Hillsborough Handicap on Sept. 28 over the Longden Turf Course. She finished ninth, encountering traffic problems on the second turn.

"She's a lot better than that," Lage said. "I'm expecting her to run well."

Dispersed Reward has tender feet that bothered her on the harder Southern California tracks. That's one reason her options down south were limited to turf. The softer northern California tracks allow her to work easier in the morning.

Under the patient care of both Cerin and Lage, Dispersed Reward's foot problems seem to be a thing of the past.

In addition to the tracks being softer in northern California, the competition may be softer as well.

"Down south was a tough situation," Lage said. "She didn't have any conditions and could only run in stakes. Up here, we have this type of stakes, and I think she can be very useful here."