02/27/2007 1:00AM

Layoff returnees may offer best value


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Two runners returning from layoffs - Beautiful Dixie and Wellingtons Arch - could have plenty to say about the outcome of Thursday's Bay Meadows feature.

The $62,500 optional claimer for fillies and mares at one mile attracted five runners. The other three ran against each other on Feb. 8 - Gemstone Rush (who finished second), Fantastic Career (third), and Gentle Charmer (fourth).

Beautiful Dixie makes her first start since finishing last behind the winning Bai and Bai in the Muir Woods on Jan. 6.

Wellingtons Arch makes her first start since chipping an ankle during the running of the Alameda County Fillies and Mares Handicap last July 4.

A strong case can be made for any of the three runners with recency, but the other two have plenty to offer, and each may provide a juicier price - even though both would prefer to be racing on the turf, where this race would have been run were it not for rain around here last weekend.

Wellingtons Arch last won a race 13 months ago, an allowance race at Bay Meadows. But she has strung together a series of strong drills for her comeback, including bullets in each of her last four workouts.

"She will make it interesting for quite a while," said her trainer, Jeff Bonde. "She's the speed of the race, and she's been working very well."

Bonde said he is concerned about the mile distance, but Wellingtons Arch did win her maiden at a mile on the turf, and her victory here last year was at 1 1/16 miles.

Both Gentle Charmer and Gemstone Rush appear able to stalk close enough to the pace to prevent Wellingtons Arch from stealing the race on the front end.

Beautiful Dixie won at a mile on the turf on Dec. 8. Sandwiched around that victory were a pair of losses in stakes races to Bai and Bai.

Two of Beautiful Dixie's three career victories are on the turf, but she also has main-track victory at Thursday's distance.

"It's been almost two months since she's raced, and it's not like she ran bad," said Beautiful Dixie's trainer, John Anderson. "She just ran into Bai and Bai.

Beautiful Dixie likely will sit off the pace, which wasn't the place to be last week on this racetrack.