04/03/2003 1:00AM

Marsh solid on turf

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - In turf stakes for young horses, the fields typically comprise turf performers with limited stakes experience or stakes performers with limited turf experience. The field for the $100,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge, at one mile Saturday at Lone Star Park, illustrates that.

The major contenders all competed at Fair Grounds over the winter, where turf allowance races were frequently run. Marsh, Gentlemen J J, and Lone Star Deputy, all winners during the Fair Grounds meet, make their turf stakes debut in the Grand Prairie.

Marsh, from the barn of Steve Asmussen, was undefeated over the Fair Grounds turf, winning a maiden race and a first-level allowance race with well-timed stretch runs.

"We lost time making him do things he wasn't able to do, like running on dirt, but he's really coming into his own and he's meeting our expectations," Asmussen said.

Jockey Jeremy Beasley substitutes aboard Marsh for the traveling Corey Lanerie.

Gentlemen J J also captured both of his starts on grass during the Fair Grounds meet. Unlike Marsh, he ran in two stakes this year, both on dirt, finishing 11th and sixth.

"He came out of those races well," said trainer Andrew Leggio. "We hope it was just him not liking the dirt."

Bobby Walker Jr. has the mount on Gentlemen J J.

Lone Star Deputy, who won his maiden in his turf debut, missed by a length in his first start against winners last time out, over a yielding surface. He, too, has plenty of upside and may offer value.

The Grand Prairie field also includes the 2002 Texas Horse of the Year, Leo's Last Hurrahy, who has struggled in three starts this year. Beaten a combined 53 1/2 lengths in the Lecomte and Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Leo's Last Hurrahy finished third in the Texas Heritage Stakes last out. He finished a close second in the El Joven Stakes in his only turf appearance.

With showers and thunderstorms possible for Saturday, the race may be taken off the turf. Call Me Lefty, a multiple stakes winner in the Texas Stallion series, finished a strong second in the Grade 3 Lecomte on dirt at Fair Grounds. Commander's Affair, a son of Deputy Commander, won an entry-level allowance race in quick time, but was eased when overmatched in the Louisiana Derby.

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