01/14/2005 12:00AM

Penny's Fortune in opportunistic spot

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PHOENIX - Trainer Jenine Sahadi knows she has a good turf filly in Penny's Fortune. A 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat out of Lovlier Linda, Penny's Fortune already has made a name for herself on the grass, winning 3 of her last 4 starts, including the Carmel Handicap at Bay Meadows in September and the Audrey Skirball-Kenis at Hollywood Park on Nov. 7.

Trouble is, there isn't much turf racing going on in Southern California these days, and with Penny's Fortune's pedigree and proven ability - plus a lack of superstar opposition in Sunday's Grade 2 El Encino at 1 1/16 miles on the main track - Sahadi is wise to take a swing at it.

The race is for straight 4-year-old fillies, and Hollywood Story, Yearly Report, and House of Fortune are all eyeing other races. Alphabet Kisses, 20-1 upset winner of the series' first leg, the Grade 1, seven-furlong La Brea, is also taking a pass. There is the specter of A.P. Adventure, but her rep is less imposing than it used to be.

It's risky, but a good risk. The purse is $150,000 and the race offers Grade 2 status. Perhaps most importantly, if Penny's Fortune proves capable on the main track, it opens up a world of new opportunities. If she doesn't run well, she can always wait for the rain to subside and turf racing to resume. It's a little like an athlete coming out of school early; he can make it pay now and he can always go back to school.

Rider Jose Valdivia Jr. hopes Penny's Fortune is up to the task.

"She's been working good but we'll find out on Sunday," he said. "She's got pedigree to run as well on the dirt, but it's so different from running on it in the morning to the afternoon."

Penny's Fortune also has shown versatility. When she won the Skirball-Kenis at Hollywood, she led wire to wire. When she won the Carmel, she did so from off the pace.

And it's not as if dirt is foreign to her. She won her maiden on dirt, and while she hasn't tried it since last summer, she looks like a much better filly now than she was then.

Then there's the pedigree. We all know about Storm Cat - not only was he a top racehorse, but he's one of the preeminent sires in the game, his get commanding top dollar and achieving big things.

Her dam's influence is just as important. Lovlier Linda was top-class. She won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita and Grade 1 Santa Monica and was multiple graded stakes placed. She is a proven producer, and is the dam of Old Trieste.

A top-class miler, Old Trieste won 6 of 14 starts and nearly $848,000, all on the main track, including major wins in the Grade 2 Swaps, Grade 2 Californian, Grade 2 Del Mar BC Handicap, and Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap.

A.P. Adventure is the horse to beat, but after looking like a monster last spring, she had a long layoff followed by a so-so return at Hollywood Park last month that seems to have produced more questions than answers. A beautifully bred daughter of A.P. Indy, A.P. Adventure won her first three starts, all at Santa Anita, including the Grade 1 Las Virgenes. She was third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, but lost no luster that day as victorious Silent Sights ran huge and runner-up Halfbridled was the division leader coming off a splendid championship season.

A.P. Adventure caught mud in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, raced wide, and was not a factor. She was gone until the Dec. 12 Bayakoa, and finished third to the winner, Hollywood Story. While it wasn't a bad performance it was hardly what bettors who made her 8-5 expected. In other words, A.P. Adventure still must show she's back.

Elusive Diva is quick when on her game. She was dull in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, was given time off, and returned in the La Brea at Santa Anita on Dec. 27. She dueled on a hot pace that day and tired a bit late. It was a good first step back, but she is winless in two tries at this distance.

Girl Warrior looks like a comer for trainer Neil Drysdale, having impressively won an allowance race at Hollywood Dec. 10. Still, it's a big leap from an N1X to a Grade 2.

In other words, the window of opportunity has opened for Penny's Fortune, and the El Encino is her chance to slip through before it slams shut.