01/13/2005 12:00AM

Muir Beach may have slight edge


HOENIX - In the Nov. 27 Queen of the Green Handicap at Turf Paradise, a mere neck separated the winner, Very Vegas, and the runner-up, Muir Beach. That race was at a mile on the turf. Saturday's $40,000 Kachina Handicap, at a mile on the dirt, pits the two crack females against each other again in what figures to be a stirring renewal. A field of eight is slated to go in the feature, the fourth race on a nine-race card.

The two are so close in so many respects that even the track handicapper could not separate the pair, pegging both at 124 pounds. The slightest nod here may go to Muir Beach, primarily because this race is on the dirt. Trained by Dan McFarlane, she has been brilliant the past year. She has won 7 of 19 overall but only once on the turf, so this surface figures to be more to her liking.

Muir Beach has finished first or second in six straight, with her only dull outings before that coming on the turf in Southern California. Her good main-track form, however, includes sprint victories at Bay Meadows and Del Mar, a route stakes win at Del Mar, and two stakes sprint wins at Turf Paradise. Regular rider Wilson Dieguez has the call, and Muir Beach's versatility can get her whatever trip is necessary.

Very Vegas, of course, is no dirt slouch either. While she has two turf wins - both stakes, one at Santa Anita last February and the other the Queen of the Green when she re-rallied to beat Muir Beach - she also has four dirt wins. Trained by Marcelo Polanco, she not only has plenty of speed but is also a proven commodity on this dirt - she won the Arizona Oaks here 11 months ago as a 3-year-old. She has not run since the Queen of the Green but has fired fresh before and has worked strongly for this. Mick Ruis, aboard for her last three wins, will ride again.

It is hardly just a two-horse race, however. Conspiring, trained by Neil Drysdale, ships in from Southern California. The mare has never run on dirt but has trained well over the surface and boasts ample class. She is the race's surprise package and has been assigned 121 pounds.

Arch Lady has been assigned 119. She has won 4 of her last 5, although the last two times she faced Muir Beach she was beaten.

Cal's Baby gives McFarlane two looks at this. She has been in good form, with six straight fine outings after being gone a year. She was second to Arch Lady in the Jan. 1 Ocean Bay on this track at this trip, and was a close-up third in the Queen of the Green. She gets in at 116 pounds.