01/07/2004 12:00AM

With no stars, race a puzzle for players

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NEW ORLEANS - One doesn't expect to find budding graded stakes runners in entry-level allowance races for older horses. But a challenge? Yes.

Fourteen horses, including two also-eligibles, were entered in Friday's ninth race at Fair Grounds, a first-level turf allowance for older fillies and mares. Somewhere in this morass is a winner, but those looking for future stars should tune into the race before, an exciting maiden sprint for 3-year-old fillies.

As for the ninth, which is to be contested at about 1 1/16 miles, form is all over the place. Bettors may settle on No Other Like You as the favorite, but that may not get them far. No Other Like You, part of trainer Burk Kessinger's short Fair Grounds string, was 9-5 when she started here Dec. 7, but ran evenly in the stretch and settled for third in a nine-horse field. She is a logical contender, but there are others.

Border Blues won over this course last meet, and may be ready to show more than she did in her last start, a fifth in a Nov. 26 Churchill Downs turf race at this class level. The race was contested over a wet course that Border Blues might not have cared for, but that might happen again Friday, with rain in the forecast for Thursday night. Still, Border Blues made a late run and missed winning by a neck Oct. 24 at Keeneland, and she figures in this spot.

Kissalyssa will interest players who have noted trainer Darrin Miller's past success switching horses from dirt to turf. Kissalyssa's last win came over conditioned claimers, and her forwardly placed style clashes with the general profile of the grass course. She has worked four times at Fair Grounds, however, and has a chance at long odds.

The eighth race appears to be stocked with exciting prospects, but Gold Margarita may get the nod from the betting public. Trained by Tom Amoss, Gold Margarita was purchased for $130,000 as a yearling, a high price for a daughter of Defrere, and Gold Margarita looked like a runner when she won a training race here Dec. 17. Amoss has won with 23 percent of his first-timers the last two seasons, and his horses at Fair Grounds usually are heavily bet.

Dyna Girl, from the Al Stall barn, also has worked swiftly for her debut, but is bred to run long, as is Royal Box, a first-time starter for trainer Neil Howard who is a half-sister to Secret Status.