06/29/2001 12:00AM

Odd spot for prep

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After watching Anclote secure her first stakes victory a month ago, trainer Paul Rizzo began thinking about pointing her to the Delaware Oaks, a Grade 3 race on July 21 worth $250,000 run at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

In contrast to her sharp dirt form, Anclote is winless in two starts on turf and carries a below-average Tomlinson rating of 180, indicating she's probably not well-suited for grass.

So why has Rizzo chosen to prep for the Oaks by running Anclote against a field that includes a graded stakes winner in Sunday's $100,000 Christiana Stakes at Delaware Park, a nine-furlong grass race?

The answer is simply a matter of counting days on the calendar.

The Christiana, explains Rizzo, is three weeks before the Oaks, which makes it an ideal prep for Anclote.

"The Christiana is on the grass, but the timing was right," said Rizzo. "We are hoping to use this race to get us ready for the Oaks."

Rizzo said he is not overly concerned about Anclote's 0-for-2 turf mark. Both races were against first-level allowance horses in Florida last winter. She ran third, beaten four lengths, at Hialeah, and was fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner, at Gulfstream. Both times, she finished ahead of more than half the field.

"I know she will be running against turf specialists, but she can handle almost any kind of surface," Rizzo said.

The clear-cut favorite in the Christiana is Ruff, who is 4 for 6 on turf, including wins in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo last fall in New York and a minor stakes at Gulfstream in February.

Although Ruff hasn't run since early March, New York-based trainer David Donk said the long layoff was by design.

"I thought I ran her once too many times, too close together in Florida, so I was looking to freshen her up a little bit," Donk said.