08/09/2005 11:00PM

Latice tries marathon off layoff


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Latice won the first four starts of her career, including last year's French Oaks, which she won as the 9-5 favorite against 16 rivals. On her best day, it's obvious she is top class. But when she returns to the races on Friday at Saratoga, in the $65,000 Waya Stakes, she will be making her first start since December, and will be attempting to rebound after losing her form at the end of last year.

lost three straight after her French Oaks victory, including two against males, in the Arc de Triomphe and the Hong Kong Cup. Her new trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, was circumspect on Wednesday regarding her chances in the 1 1/2-mile grass race.

"It wouldn't be my first choice to start her out in a stake at a mile and a half, but she's ready to run," Sheppard said by phone from Cleveland, where he was delayed by thunderstorms while returning to Albany from Ocala, Fla. "I entered her in a couple of allowance races at Delaware and Colonial before we came up there, but they didn't fill.

"She's trained pretty well, but she had a pretty hard campaign last year, and her form went off a little bit. That's why we gave her quite a bit of a rest. We also had a few minor issues to deal with. She's doing reasonably well. She's got enough of a foundation. She's fit enough to give a reasonable account of herself."

Sheppard paused for a second and looked at the updated information for his flight to Albany. "It just says 'delayed,' " he said. "It might be days before I get back."

When he does, Sheppard will find that 11 others entered the Waya - two are main-track only - including one other graded stakes winner. Theatre R.N. won the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, which was her fourth victory in five starts.

Like Latice, is returning from a long layoff. She has not raced since the Las Palmas on Oct. 31. Last year, she was trained by Bobby Frankel, but she is now trained by Bill Mott. She has a history of running well fresh.

"She's doing pretty good," Mott said. "She's certainly not overtrained. She's been a bit fragile, I guess. That's why I'm not going to train it all out of her. I would have liked to have run her a mile and a quarter, but they don't have too many options up here. Her previous trainer said the distance would be good for her."

The remaining runners are second- and third-level allowance runners who appear of similar ability. They would have to improve significantly to threaten Latice and Theater R.N.