02/19/2004 12:00AM

Maiden Tower tries to erase bad race

Maiden Tower gets nosed out by Film Maker (in blinkers) in the queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Maiden Tower was brilliant in Europe and the United States last year, winning three stakes and finishing second in three others. Those results made a 13th-place finish in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park in December even more puzzling.

The Matriarch remains the only blemish in Maiden Tower's nine-race career, which resumes in Saturday's $150,000 at Santa Anita.

Owned by Darley Stable, Maiden Tower is the 118-pound starting highweight in the one-mile turf race for fillies and mares. A win would erase the disappointment of the Matriarch and make Maiden Tower a filly to watch in upcoming turf stakes.

Trainer Eoin Harty dismisses the Matriarch, stating that Maiden Tower "bounced" off a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October.

"She was a 3-year-old in against the best fillies and mares in the country," he said. "It was a huge mountain to climb."

The Buena Vista does not have the same depth. Maiden Tower's top rivals are Katdogawn and Personal Legend, the first two finishers in the Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park in December.

Maiden Tower was campaigned sporadically last year. In the spring, she made four starts, winning three stakes and finishing second in the French 1000 Guineas. In her final start in France, Maiden Tower won the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham over a mile on June 1. She did not start again until the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland on Oct. 11.

In those races, she led or tracked the pace, a strategy that has not changed in this country.

"There is no rating her," Harty said. "She's difficult to train and ride. She's very headstrong."

Maiden Tower will be challenged early by Fudge Fatale, who pulled an upset at 55-1 in the minor Tuzla Handicap on Jan. 28.

A fast pace will help Katdogawn and Personal Legend. Katdogawn has not started since winning her third stakes of 2003 in the Dahlia, beating Personal Legend by a nose. Personal Legend returned Jan. 18 to finish second in the El Encino Stakes on dirt.

Trainer Jim Cassidy said Katdogawn should not be bothered by the two-month layoff since the Dahlia. "She runs pretty good fresh," he said.

But Cassidy said he is concerned about how Katdogawn will run on a turf course that could be affected by rain and the filly's recent bout with a cough. "I don't know how she'll do on soft turf," he said.