01/12/2006 1:00AM

Muir Beach reloaded for Kachina

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PHOENIX - Muir Beach, one of the leading females in the Southwest the past few years, makes her return to the races as the 122-pound highweight in Turf Paradise's $40,000 Kachina Handicap on Saturday.

The one-mile race has attracted a field of nine, with Muir Beach looming a heavy favorite and giving five to nine pounds to her rivals.

Trained by Dan McFarlane, Muir Beach has won 10 of 27 starts and more than $347,000, and five of her wins came at Turf Paradise. Last year she won this race as well as four other stakes here.

After a superb Turf Paradise meeting, Muir Beach advanced to Southern California and was hardly disgraced. She was fourth in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap routing on dirt, a close-up fourth in the Tranquility Lake routing on turf, and third in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap sprinting on dirt, all at Hollywood Park in the spring and summer. She failed to threaten when sixth in the Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 7, then was given a rest. She has worked well since and, if ready, figures tough to beat. She has won 3 of 4 starts at this distance. Joel Campbell rides.

Miss Hester and Kresgeville, the first and second finishers in the Mesa Handicap here on Dec. 17, are the primary dangers. Miss Hester has won her last three starts - two at Zia Park in New Mexico, then the Mesa, when she rallied from well off the pace to win by a neck. Glenn Corbett was originally named to ride at 117 pounds, but he was involved in a spill here Tuesday and his status was uncertain.

Kresgeville rallied for third in the Excess Energy here on Dec. 3, then rallied strongly again to lose the Mesa by a neck. Three of her four wins have come at Turf Paradise, but this is her first attempt beyond a sprint. She worked a five-furlong bullet in 58.20 seconds here Jan. 7, which indicates she is sharp. Jocelyne Kenny-Martin rides at 117 pounds.

* More than 10,000 fans showed up at Turf Paradise last Saturday for the track's 50th anniversary celebration. Along with giveaways, the card featured the $40,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap, a mile turf race named for the late NBA coach and Phoenix Suns executive who was an avid racing fan and fixture in the track's Turf Club.

His widow, JoAnn Fitzsimmons, presented the winner's trophy to the connections of Western Act, who scored a mild upset in the Fitzsimmons. The race serves as the key prep for the $75,000 Turf Paradise Handicap on Feb. 11.