09/25/2007 12:00AM

'Penny' steps up after layoff

EmailSAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Mark Hall was concerned that Thursday's Bay Meadows feature, a six-furlong $40,000 starter allowance race for fillies and mares, wouldn't fill. So he entered A Run for Penny in a $12,500 claimer on Wednesday.

Happily for him, Thursday's starter allowance filled with a field of five, including A Run for Penny.

But why would the trainer of a filly whose only start resulted in a victory in a bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimer in February want to take such a big step up? Wouldn't a $12,500 claimer against winners be a big enough step?

"We had always liked her," Hall said. "Even though that was an $8,000 race, it was a pretty tough one. Some of the others in that race came out of it and won and are still running well."

The 5 1/2-furlong race on Feb. 11 at Golden Gate Fields had 11 entrants. Four of the runners won their next start. Runner-up Star Runner and first-timer Apollo Gal both won their next start, as did Jazzy Jacqlin, who finished 10th that day. Purpley finished sixth and ran second in her next start.

Since that race, Star Runner has won 3 times in 8 starts. Apollo Gal has a career record of 2 wins, 3 seconds, and 3 thirds in 11 starts. Purpley has 2 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third in 8 starts. Even Jazzy Jacqlin, 49-1 on Feb. 11, has two wins.

Shin problems prompted Hall to give the 4-year-old A Run for Penny some time off. She has worked steadily for her comeback, including a 1:00.80 five-furlong bullet drill from the gate Sept. 9 at Solano.

"She's come back well," Hall said. "The fact she won her debut gives us confidence in her coming off a layoff."

Strange as it may seem, A Run for Penny may have a better chance in this spot than she would have Wednesday, despite the fact it's a tougher race. There is not as much early speed in Thursday's race, which works in A Run for Penny's favor.

She sat a half-length behind Place to Play's opening quarter in 21.54 seconds in her debut, opened a lead through a 45.18 half-mile, and maintained it late.

No one else in the field has shown speed on a consistent basis, although My Silver Ransome did run a sub-45-second half-mile last year.

Kneeling's Pride, who drew the rail, comes off a strong effort, rallying for second in a fast $25,000 claimer on Sept. 9. She could go off favored based on that race.