05/15/2008 12:00AM

Outlook for Shakis both good and bad

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BALTIMORE - The field for this year's Grade 2, $250,000 Dixie Stakes did not draw the stars of the turf division. That's the good news for probable favorite Shakis.

The bad news could be the prospect of a less-than-firm Pimlico turf course and a lack of speed in the 1 1/8-mile race, which drew a field of nine.

Shakis, an 8-year-old son of Machiavellian trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, won each of his two starts at 1 1/8 miles last year - including setting a Saratoga turf course record in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch - and was extremely competitive in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan where he was third, beaten a head, and the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile where he was third, beaten four lengths.

In his first start this year, Shakis finished sixth to Kip Deville in the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. The runner-up from that race, Einstein, came back to win the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

Though the Maker's Mark was run on "good" turf, McLaughlin felt the layoff and trip got his horse beat more than course condition.

"He got hung awfully wide and he needed the race," McLaughlin said. "He's great, ready to go. I think he likes it firm, but he would be okay with a little give in the ground."

Stay Close and Salinja look like the two horses that would move up the most on yielding or soft turf. Stay Close has won 3 of his last 4 starts, including an allowance race over a yielding Tampa Bay Downs turf course and the Henry Clark Stakes over firm ground at Pimlico. Anna Napravnik rode him in the Clark and will be back aboard on Saturday.

"Anna rode a great race," Zwiesler said. "He was a little farther back than I expected but he made a nice run.''

Salinja is a 6-year-old gelding who appears to be in career-best form for trainer Graham Motion. He won a one-mile allowance at Keeneland over yielding turf in April and was beaten just a length by Einstein in an allowance race at Gulfstream in January.

Though Salinja has the ability to be in front early, Motion said he would like to see the son of Boundary - the sire of Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown - get the same stalking trip Gabriel Saez gave him in his last race. Saez is back aboard on Saturday from post 8.

"I thought he rode him great - he rode him just how I hoped he'd ride him," Motion said. "I don't see a lot of speed in the race. He's going to be close up. I think he's better off if he can settle just off the pace. He's a lovely horse, very honest, and I think he's run against some nice horses.''

Distorted Reality, who won the Lexington Stakes at Belmont at 3, made a successful 4-year-old debut winning a third-level allowance race at Aqueduct last month.

"He looks like he fits in there on his best day," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He had a good comeback race and hopefully he moves forward off of that."

Buffalo Man won the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap over firm Gulfstream turf in January, but bombed over yielding ground in the Mervin Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds.

Headsandtales, Pays to Dream, Ra Der Dean, and Pick Six complete the field.