12/19/2008 12:00AM

Pace and bias factor into Dahlia

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap, Sunday's closing-day feature at Hollywood Park, should be an interesting betting race with the contention going five or six deep in the exotics in the field of 12.

Running styles should be a factor in this 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, with the likely pace scenario and the turf running-style bias boosting the chances of some contenders and hindering others. Early and tactical speed have been preferred more often than not in turf routes at this meet, but midpack runners have also won more than their fair share of races. Those two running styles are prospering at the expense of closers, who are winning about one-third fewer races than they would if the results were simply randomly distributed.

The pace of the race figures to be only moderate, and In My Glory should be able to grab the early lead. While she is a tempting filly to consider, it remains to be seen if she has the talent to capitalize on that advantage. Her best recent Beyer Speed Figures aren't bad, but they're a bit lighter than those of some of the other contenders. She also has class questions to answer. I won't hold the claiming races showing in the three oldest races in her past performances against her. Those races are more than a year old, and she is obviously in much better form now. Three races ago she finished second as a 21-1 longshot in a $75,000 stakes at Golden Gate. But she regressed next time out when she owned a clear lead for six furlongs and weakened to finish third of five in a second-level allowance race.

Some of the closers in the race have the ability to be competitive against this type, but they will probably have to be lengths the best to overcome a mild pace and moderate track bias. Valbenny was 12th of 13 early in the Grade 2 Las Palmas at Oak Tree, then rallied nicely to finish fourth, 1 1/4 lengths behind the winner. That was a mile race, and the extra half-furlong will help today. But closers were more effective on the turf that meet than they have been at Hollywood.

Lady Digby made a wide rally from the rear half of the pack in the middle of the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill, reached striking distance, then ran out of steam and tired slightly late. That race was run on a deep, tiring, yielding turf course. It was her return from a layoff of 16 weeks, so it was a very strong performance. In fact, it was such a good effort that she might have needed a little extra time to recover from it. She has had 36 days between races and should be set to improve in the second race of her form cycle. She'll be a major player if she can overcome the possible disadvantages of the pace scenario and the track bias.

Belle Allure is a French invader who will be making her first North American start. She finished a solid fourth in the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein last time out at Longchamp on Oct. 4. She can contend at overlaid odds in this race, but her running style is a concern as she was seventh of eight early in that mile race, and seventh of 10 early going 1 1/4 miles in her previous start.

Gotta Have Her was stuck out in post 13 going a mile on the grass in the Grade 2 Las Palmas last time at Oak Tree. She pressed the pace, grabbed the lead, and didn't fade until the last half-furlong when she was caught by four closers and finished fifth, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner. She should enjoy a better trip today if her connections ask her to be forwardly placed again. She should be the one who inherits the lead if In My Glory tires. Note that she finished a close second behind Vacare two races ago. Gotta Have Her will be a threat to win at a square price, and will also be useful in the exotics.

Vacare is the filly they'll have to beat. She won the Grade 2 Palomar at Del Mar three races ago. She was a close second in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon two races ago. And she finished a contending fifth, just two lengths behind the winner while making mild progress late, in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Oak Tree last time. She was fourth early going

1 1/4 miles in each of her last two races and might still be able to get a similar position if the fractions are mild today. If so, she'll be in a good spot to kick past the leaders late.

I'll use Vacare with Gotta Have Her, Belle Allure, Lady Digby, and In My Glory in the exotics.