07/21/2004 11:00PM

Matos filly returns in Fairfield

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VALLEJO, Calif. - Saturday's $40,000-added Fairfield Stakes at the Solano County Fair couldn't come at a better time for trainer Gil Matos.

His talented 3-year-old filly Smoke Break is set to return after minor knee surgery and has given every indication she is ready to run well in her first start since a runner-up effort to Heavenly Humor in the Miss California on Jan. 17 at Golden Gate Fields.

She will have eight rivals, including stakes-placed Eight Karat, in the six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies.

Following the Miss California, Matos noticed something amiss.

The filly came back from the race "with a little heat" in the knee, he said. "She never went off on it, but with this caliber of filly, it was the right thing to do surgery for the tiny chip and take some time with her."

Smoke Break, bred by Matos's brother, Fernando, was offered for sale at Del Mar as a yearling, but bidding came up $1,000 short of her reserve price, so Matos persuaded his brother to bring the filly home.

M.A. Douzos and Don Eidson, longtime Matos clients, bought shares in the filly, and she has already earned $105,360, never failing to pick up a paycheck in each of her seven starts.

Smoke Break has three seconds and a fourth in stakes competition, but Matos believes she can notch her first stakes victory Saturday.

"We've been shooting for this race," he said. "She's always run well the two times when she's run fresh."

In fact, Smoke Break won her debut, and she beat stakes-winning Lyin Goddess off a layoff in her first start of 2004.

"This is a good field, but she's run against better horses than any of the others have," Matos said.

Smoke Break drew post 2, just outside one of her primary rivals, Princess Lianna, who won her first two starts but hasn't run since finishing fifth in the April 18 Stanford Stakes at Bay Meadows.

Victory Girl, coming off an allowance victory at Pleasanton, and Yerevan Star, who was impressive winning her maiden race in her second start at Pleasanton, will also be tough. They will add to the early pace scenario, as will Favorite Times, who has never been worse than second in four starts.

Eight Karat would benefit most from a speed duel, but Smoke Break seems unrivaled on paper.