09/30/2002 11:00PM

Maiden eyes Cover Gal upset


ARCADIA, Calif. - Six starts into her career, the maiden filly Small Town Girl has lost most of her allies.

It's nothing new. Horseplayers allow for some imperfections, but following two losses by Small Town Girl at Hollywood Park and four at Del Mar, many bettors reached the conclusion that Small Town Girl simply cannot run.

Or, can she?

"She's better than that," trainer Bob Baffert said. "I think she hated Del Mar. The track was deep and loose and she couldn't go anywhere."

Small Town Girl will start as a longshot Thursday in the $75,000 Cover Gal Stakes for California-bred 2-year-old fillies, and if Baffert is right about this General Meeting filly, she may be positioned for an upset.

Eight statebred fillies race seven furlongs in the Cover Gal, including Generous Portion winner Miss Nicolie, Barretts Debutante winner Last Kiss, and Bustles and Bows winner Zam Zam. All those stakes were restricted, and the highest Beyer Speed Figure by a Cover Gal starter is 78. It is a soft field, completed by Buttertart, Servaline, Sky's Snow, and Summer Wind Dancer.

Weak competition is only one reason to build a case for a longshot. In the case of Small Town Girl, there is further rationale, including pace. The fractions of the Cover Gal figure to come up soft. Zam Zam is quick, but the only time she was close to a 45-second half-mile she folded. None of the other Cover Gal starters have shown the ability to cope with legitimate fractions.

Racing seven furlongs, Zam Zam is Small Town Girl's only apparent pace foe. Two fast recent works at Santa Anita support Baffert's contention the filly prefers Santa Anita to Del Mar. Owned and bred by Mike Pegram, Small Town Girl was favored at Hollywood Park in her first two starts largely because of fast works on this track.

Mike Smith rides Small Town Girl, a solid gamble in a modest field.

It is nothing new for a 2-year-old maiden to win a stakes. Likely favorite Miss Nicolie lost three times before winning the Generous Portion in her fourth career start for trainer D. Wayne Baker. Last Kiss lost her first two, then scored a mild upset in the Barretts Debutante. She was sired by Slew's Royalty, and might not want to go much farther than seven furlongs.

The Cover Gal is the prep for the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 2.

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