08/01/2004 11:00PM

New experience for Ms. Lydonia

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CHICAGO - There is a conservative handicapping school that suggests one not bet on a horse to do something it has never done before. But what Ms. Lydonia has not yet done, she may do better than anything else.

The unknown is grass, and if the weather stays dry enough leading into Wednesday's Arlington program, Ms. Lydonia will race over it for the first time in the featured eighth race. The feature is carded for second-level statebred allowance horses at about 1 1/16 miles on grass, and it drew a field of 10 fillies and mares.

At age 3, is as young as any of them, but she already has beaten older horses in a first-level statebred allowance race, and Ms. Lydonia exits a second-place finish in the $85,000 Purple Violet Stakes. That start came at one mile around one turn on dirt, and though Ms. Lydonia missed by less than a length, her stretch run was ugly. She swerved in and out, never finding a straight course, and the stewards eventually took her number down while handing jockey Cruz Contreras a suspension. Chris Emigh, fresh off a three-win Sunday here, takes over now, just in time for Ms. Lydonia's switch to turf.

And Ms. Lydonia should like it, since she is by Labeeb, who was a Grade 1-level grass competitor. Ms. Lydonia has won at six furlongs, but she looked most comfortable when she scored an easy victory in an off-the-turf allowance race here around two turns at nine furlongs. That day, Ms. Lydonia settled nicely for Contreras, and she ran the stretch well - a style that translates perfectly to turf racing.

Starting just inside Ms. Lydonia is another first-time turfer, Natural Image, and she might also move forward switching surfaces. Natural Image was out of action for nearly a year, and did not impress in either of her dirt races this summer, but she is by El Prado and could show more on grass.

also should show some speed, and this past weekend, as Arlington's turf course reached its firmest point of the meet, pace horses held well in grass races.

Also entered are the usual suspects in this division, contenders like Miss Bingo Bettie, Noble Wish, Echo Jo, and Time to Live. They all have done the grass thing before - but the newcomer Ms. Lydonia might do it better.