03/04/2004 1:00AM

Playa Maya tough as shipper from South


As spring nears and the temperature rises, many horses wintering in the South return to Kentucky and the quality of racing at Turfway Park rises.

That trend is apparent in Saturday's $50,000 Wintergreen Stakes, in which three of the 11 fillies and mares come off recent starts at either Fair Grounds or Gulfstream Park.

Playa Maya is one such runner.

A winner of two of four starts, she comes off a fast 4 1/2-length allowance triumph at Fair Grounds Jan. 23. Although that victory came on turf, she acts and runs like a better dirt horse, trainer David Carroll said.

"I wanted to get her in a one-other-than on dirt, but they were having trouble getting one to fill down here," Carroll said from his winter base at Fair Grounds. "So we went ahead and tried the grass. I thought her ability would be enough to win it."

It was. Playa Maya led from start to finish, winning easily.

With an abundance of pace drawn to her inside in the one-mile Wintergreen, she will likely revert to a stalking style. Tony D'Amico rides the stakes-placed Playa Maya, who breaks from post 9.

Rain is forecasted leading up to Saturday's race, which could put the other Fair Grounds invader, Bonay, at a disadvantage. She has struggled in past efforts in the mud or slop.

She also has been off form in recent months, but won a two-other-than allowance on turf at Fair Grounds Nov. 29. Earlier in her career, she was third in the Grade 3 Tempted and the Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct. Dean Butler rides for trainer Merrill Scherer.

The one Florida invader is Glitter Act. A two-other-than allowance winner at Gulfstream Park Jan. 18, she returned to Kentucky in February. She has breezing regularly at the Churchill Downs Trackside training center the last few weeks for trainer Dale Romans.

A speedy filly, Glitter Act has never been off the board in eight starts. In four starts over wet tracks, she has two wins, a second, and a third. That third-place finish came in the Dec. 6 My Charmer Stakes at Turfway. Leading rider Rafael Bejarano has the mount.

Of the Wintergreen starters coming off races at Turfway, Balla Twine and Secondary School figure most prominent.

Balla Twine scored a 10 1/2-length victory in the mud at Turfway Jan. 18, while Secondary School might well improve upon a recent third-place finish in her second start following a layoff.