08/02/2005 11:00PM

Lake Merced throws her weight around

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Athletes come in all shapes and sizes, as trainer Armando Lage knows.

When he sends Lake Merced out for her California debut in Friday's Solano County Fair feature, a first-level allowance race for fillies and mares at six furlongs, he is hoping that he has a Charles Barkley.

"She's pretty," he said.

He admits, though, "She's a little heavy."

Lage believes in steady works as preparation for a horse coming off a layoff. He doesn't push hard, which may explain his low percentage with horses coming off a long layoff.

But , who will be making her first start since a wire-to-wire maiden win in her debut last October at Penn National, has done more than work steadily since arriving in his care. She has four six-furlongs works, two of them bullet drills. She also wound up preparations for Friday's race with a bullet three-furlong move.

"I've worked her fast because she's heavy, and I'm trying to get some weight off," Lage said. "She's still on the heavy side."

Other than being heavy, Lake Merced has impressed Lage, who expects her to show speed.

But she meets several others with speed. Both Tequila Lana and Hunky Dory are fast, and Little Esther, a winner of her only start here, also has run quickly early.

Tequila Lana and Hunky Dory seem the primary threats to Lake Merced.

, just claimed by Billy Morey, rallied to finish a troubled second in a $16,000 claimer at Solano, where she took up shortly after the start and raced on the rail all the way.

won her debut and did not race for 15 months. Fourth in her comeback this spring at Golden Gate Fields, she returns to her best distance after bolting on the first turn going a mile at Golden Gate last out.

Lage has also entered Quite Rumor, who has been fading badly of late in routes. One of two 3-year-old fillies in the field of six, along with All Candy, Quite Rumor lost in her lone try at the distance but might be competitive here.

"I want to try to break the routine with her," Lage said, hopeful that her recent route tries will lead to a strong finish in a sprint.