07/23/2002 12:00AM

Nadia jumps right in


DEL MAR, Calif. - Neil Drysdale never has been one to let conventional wisdom get in the way of training. So while running a filly for the first time against males in her first start in this country might look odd, in reality it's a shrewd move that could pay long-term dividends.

Drysdale has found a clever spot in which to bring the highly regarded Nadia back to the races. A 4-year-old filly, Nadia was a Group 1 winner in France last year, and raced with the best of her generation throughout the year. Drysdale on Tuesday said he thinks Nadia has the potential to be top-class here, and when he looked at his options for getting Nadia going, Thursday's restricted $64,000 Kobuk King Stakes at Del Mar became quite tempting.

He could have waited for a similar 1 3/8-mile grass race restricted to fillies and mares, such as the Honey Fox Stakes, but that would have delayed Nadia's North American debut. By racing on Thursday, Drysdale can gauge Nadia's fitness and potentially jump her into more lucrative, important spots quicker. In addition, the Kobuk King did not exactly attract a stellar group of male rivals.

"We got off to a late start with her," Drysdale said Tuesday from his barn at Hollywood Park, where he is based. "And she needs a distance of ground. If we'd have waited for a later race, it would have put her too close to the other races we have in mind for her."

Asked if he thought Nadia had the potential to be top-class in this country, Drysdale replied, "I do.

"She does everything quite easily," he added. "She's keen to get on with it. She's worked steadily, but we haven't tuned her yet."

Nadia has six male rivals, the most prominent of whom should be Arbiter. He has won twice in his last three starts, all of which have been on turf at 1 1/4 miles or more.

"He's an improving horse," said Craig Lewis, who trains Arbiter. "He runs well on either surface."

Arbiter's lone loss in his last three starts came when facing Sumati at Hollywood Park on May 1. Since then, Sumati has been outrun against superior horses at both Hollywood Park and Churchill Downs.

"Sumati beat him pretty easily at Hollywood, but hopefully we're better since then," Lewis said. Arbiter was out of action for two months with a bruise to his right front foot following his loss to Sumati.

The comebacking Komistar figures to make the early running. He has not raced since April, but has a steady series of works for his return.

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