01/17/2002 1:00AM

Minor flaws may topple Dianehill


PHOENIX - She comes in as the highweight, on the strength of a glossy resume forged in Southern California, where she has rubbed elbows with some of the best - Tranquility Lake, Kalatiara, Paga, and Polaire, to name a few.

But even with so much seemingly in her favor there are issues for shipper Dianehill, who comes to Turf Paradise on Saturday to lead a field of nine in the $30,000 Princess of the Palms Handicap.

While on paper, Dianehill would appear to tower over her foes in the six-furlong stakes, she faces a number of hurdles, not a single one of which is terribly significant but when stacked atop one another amounts to some serious problems.

First, she hasn't raced since Aug. 8. Second, although she made her name racing for trainer Brian Lynch she was sold privately and debuts for Bob Hess Jr. She hasn't raced on dirt since 1999, and is 0 for 2 going six furlongs.

And finally, she ventures outside California. The only other time she did that came last May, when she shipped to Lone Star, caught soft turf, and was a lackluster sixth.

No doubt Dianehill is the best horse in the race, but with so many pitfalls in her path she's going to have to come back at full strength and unfazed by the layoff, weight, new surface, new trip, and new surroundings in order to win. She will carry 122 pounds and break from post 9.

Right next door is the very fast Salty Helen, who comes back to her home track after spending the past few months in Southern California. She was a fine third sprinting on turf in the Safely Kept - behind two very nice Bobby Frankel European imports - then finished second to Kalookan Queen in the Corona Handicap at six furlongs on dirt Dec. 16. Kalookan Queen is one of the nation's top female sprinters and likely will be favored in next week's Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita.

She now heads home, where she's 3 for 4 and unlike Dianehill gets her preferred game: sprinting on dirt. She carries second highweight of 120 pounds and Seth Martinez.

Choice Connection has upset potential. She won a tough classified allowance race Jan. 4, stalking the blistering pace then taking over on the turn and holding sway. That gave her two straight wins, and she comes here in the best form of her life.

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