09/30/2004 12:00AM

Muir Beach returns home

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PHOENIX - Muir Beach went from Arizona to California over the summer and showed she could play with the big girls. A 3-year-old filly, Muir Beach won 3 of 5 starts in California this summer, including her most recent, a smart tally in the Torrey Pines at Del Mar Sept. 4.

On Saturday Muir Beach returns to her home track for the $40,000 City of Phoenix Handicap. The six-furlong event for fillies and mares lured a field of eight and goes as the ninth race on a 10-race card.

Muir Beach will be a heavy favorite based not only on her Southern California tally last month, but also on her proven local ability. Trained by Dan McFarlane, she is only 1 for 7 here, but she has 4 seconds, including three straight in stakes here this past spring. While her Torrey Pines win came going a mile, she's a perfect 2 for 2 at six furlongs. She posted a sensational five-furlong work in 57.80 seconds here last Friday. Wilson Dieguez has the mount from the rail.

Royal Again also ships in from California in good form, but unlike Muir Beach she comes here as a stranger. Royal Again comes off a strong turf sprint win at Bay Meadows Sept. 3 and has won 5 of her last 8. She was claimed out of that Bay Meadows win for $32,000 by trainer Don Mills and is 5 for 11 at this distance. Scott Stevens has the call.

She's Finding Time, trained by Kevin Eikleberry, has won 4 of her last 5, the last three coming in stakes at Arapahoe. Her last win came at 1 1/16 miles in Arapahoe's Spicy Handicap on Sept. 5, but her previous two wins both came at six furlongs and she handled this main track nicely last February. Ken Tohill has the call.

A possible upsetter is Arch Lady. Trained by Molly Pearson, Arch Lady hasn't run since finishing fourth in a strong optional claimer at Hollywood June 10. But she returns to the track she loves best and to a distance she may well prefer.