03/21/2007 11:00PM

One Off finally hitting his stride

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ARCADIA, Calif. - One Off, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Neil Drysdale, needed 27 starts before he won his first stakes in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita in January.

So far, the San Marcos is the highlight of the best season of One Off's career, and Drysdale is convinced he has found the cause of One Off's improvement: Hollywood's synthetic surface. Since One Off began training on it last fall, he has not been worse than second in four starts.

Drysdale and owners Burt and Jane Bacharach are hoping One Off can extend that success in Saturday's $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes.

Drysdale called One Off's good performances "probably attributable" to his training on the synthetic surface. "It's a kinder surface," he said.

One Off, who won six consecutive races in 52 days in England in the summer of 2003, shares top weight of 117 pounds with the Drysdale-trained Fourty Niners Son in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes, run over 1 1/2 miles on turf.

The San Luis Rey will be One Off's third start of the year, following a second in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap on Feb. 25. One Off was disqualified and placed third for causing interference in the stretch.

"He was running on at the end," Drysdale said.

Fourty Niners Son has started once this year, finishing fourth in an allowance race over 1 1/8 miles on turf on March 3. Winless in three starts last year, Fourty Niners Son won the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship in October 2005.

Fourty Niners Son, 6, has made one start at 1 1/2 miles on turf, finishing ninth in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf. Drysdale thinks Saturday's distance will suit Fourty Niners Son.

"I think he'll really enjoy it," Drysdale said. "He's back going again. I think he'll have a nice year."

The field of eight includes the marathon specialist Runaway Dancer, the European stakes winners Notable Guest and Prospect Park, and a pacesetter in A.P. Xcellent.

Trained by John Shirreffs, A.P. Xcellent will be making his turf stakes debut. He finished second in an optional claimer over 1 1/2 miles on turf here on Feb. 8.

"It was the first time he had gone that far, and he showed that he could do it," Shirreffs said.

Runaway Dancer, fourth in the San Luis Obispo, will be closing late.

"We didn't go away disappointed," trainer Dan Hendricks said of the San Luis Obispo. "I have to remind myself that he's 8."