09/14/2004 11:00PM

Questions linger about Bold Roberta


POMONA, Calif. - The big gray mare Bold Roberta returns to her favorite stomping grounds Friday to aim for a repeat victory in the $60,000 Pio Pico Stakes on the five-eighths-mile track at Fairplex Park. For the 6-year-old mare, the Los Angeles County Fair is just like home.

"She likes it here," trainer Don Warren said. "For a big filly, she takes the corners really well."

won the Pio Pico and Las Madrinas Handicap last fall at Fairplex, so when she disappointed in successive efforts this spring, Warren and owner-breeders Larry and Sheila Ullmann backed off.

"She had no problems, but it looked like she was tailing off on form," Warren said. "We said let's give her a break, because for sure we want to have her for Pomona. She ran so well here last year."

Bold Roberta's off-the-pace style is complemented by front-running entrymate Mango Escapade. The entry, which races under the Ullmann stable name S.L.U. Inc., is one of six wagering interests in the Pio Pico, a 6 1/2-furlong race for California-bred fillies and mares. The five others are the razor-sharp Market Garden, stakes winners Jetinto Houston and Icantgoforthat, as well as Tiz Royalty and Why Knott Me Too.

Bold Roberta has won six races and $434,904 from 49 starts, yet proper credentials and an obvious affinity for Fairplex do not satisfy the dilemma of Bold Roberta's current form. Two subpar races preceded her 3 1/2-month layoff, and the question - is Bold Roberta still good enough? - remains open to debate after her fifth-place comeback.

"I think the race served its purpose," Warren said, adding that she has trained well since. David Nuesch rides Bold Roberta, while Matt Garcia rides Mango Escapade, who is racing for the first time on a bullring. She has worked well at Fairplex, according to Warren.

She corners really well," Warren said. "She'll play more of a speed role, and if they corner well, sometimes they forget to stop around here."

A former S.L.U. runner will try to foil the entry. Market Garden, who like the entry was sired by Bold Badgett, has won 5 of 29, and her last five starts have been the best of her career. Claimed three back by trainer Bill Spawr and owners Sid and Jenny Craig, Market Garden has finished second in both starts for her new connections.

Market Garden shortens from a mile to 6 1/2 furlongs, and Spawr said "she'll love the distance." The 5-for-29 filly will be ridden by Martin Pedroza, and enters as the most likely winner.