04/09/2003 11:00PM

Return to turf key for Singletary

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ARCADIA, Calif. - After trying to make a dirt horse out of Singletary - it did not work, but what else do you do with a 3-year-old in winter? - trainer Don Chatlos will let Singletary do what he does best. That is, run on grass.

Eight entered the $150,000 La Puente Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita, and Singletary could be a standout. The only reason Singletary might not be a lock in the one-mile turf race is the presence of Urban King, a well-regarded colt trained by Bobby Frankel whose European form and steady workouts suggest he may be a star.

Singletary and Urban King will attract most of the La Puente betting. Other starters are Steelaninch, making his second start in the United States following a promising runner-up finish; front-runner Our Bobby V., who may prefer to sprint; and Slew City Citadel, Just Wonder, Excessive Barb, and Love is Blind. The La Puente marks the unofficial start of the turf season for 3-year-olds.

"He's a lot more confident on turf than he is on dirt," said Chatlos of Singletary.

Chatlos admits temptation got the better of him this winter. Following two sharp efforts on grass by Singletary, Chatlos caught Derby fever and switched Singletary to dirt. Two races produced similar results - he finished up the track in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina and an allowance race. That was enough. Singletary returned to grass March 14, and he and jockey David Flores caught a race without any speed.

"I had the benefit of watching two grass races early on the card and the rails were at 30 feet," Chatlos said, discussing a pair of races won by front-runners. "I told Flores to just go."

Singletary did his part, racing gate to wire in a quick 1:33.69 for one mile. It was his second win from five starts, and drove home his preference for grass. The issue Saturday is whether Singletary needs the lead, or if he can rally from off the pace. Both of his wins were accomplished in front-running fashion, but he finished from well from off the pace for second in the Dec. 28 Hill Rise, won by Peace Rules.

"Flores should be able to do whatever he wants. [Singletary] is versatile and he may be better laying off of it," Chatlos said.

The colt will get his chance Saturday, because the pace scenario is entirely different. Our Bobby V. has speed; trainer Jim Cassidy entered Love is Blind to insure a fast pace; and Excessive Barb comes out of a sprint. It may not matter. With the rails at 15 feet, Singletary may fall into a good trip and give Chatlos his first win in a six-figure stakes race.