12/23/2005 1:00AM

Return to turf should provide quite a show


ARCADIA, Calif. - In a cruel twist, Southern California had one of its driest falls on record, yet there could be no turf racing at Hollywood Park because its new course was declared unsatisfactory. As a result, there has not been any turf racing on this circuit since the Oak Tree meeting ended on Nov. 6.

Racing returns to Santa Anita on Monday, and so, too, after 50 days, does turf racing. The prospect of good weather and fresh horses should result in sensational grass racing the first part of the meet, and with several imports ready to make their debuts on this circuit, top-quality turf racing should last right through closing day, April 23, when the longest graded stakes race in the country is run, the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles.

So eager are trainers to get their horses back in action that on Wednesday, when Santa Anita had turf works for the first time in six weeks, some 34 horses had workouts in a dizzying 15 minutes.

"It will be good to get started back on the grass," said Ron McAnally, who had planned on running the likes of Mea Domina in Hollywood's Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes before it was canceled. "We've just sort of been on hold. The grass course really looks good."

In addition to Mea Domina, McAnally has high hopes for Dreaming, who should run in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap on Jan. 8, as well as Charm the Giant, who will not be seen until later in the meet. Also nearing returns are Fast and Furious, who should be back the first part of the meet, and Sweet Return, who could be back in time for the Grade 1, $300,000 Kilroe Mile on March 4.

"He had a tiny crack in a splint bone, but it healed perfect," McAnally said of Sweet Return.

Bobby Frankel trained two horses this past year, Intercontinental and Leroidesanimaux, who are leading candidates to win Eclipse Awards. And while those two, along with fan favorite Megahertz, have been retired, Frankel has stocked the shelves with some promising imports, most notably Cacique, who hails from the same family as Breeders' Cup winners Intercontinental and Banks Hill. Cacique, who will be 5 on Jan. 1, is a three-time graded stakes winner in Europe.

"He won't run until the Kilroe Mile," Frankel said.

Frankel's best female import might be Argentina, who, despite her name, was bred and raced in Europe. Argentina was second to the brilliant Divine Proportions in this year's French Oaks.

Neil Drysdale has kept much of his barn on ice the past seven weeks, but he is ready to fire with the likes of Oak Tree Derby winner Aragorn, who "would have run in the Hollywood Derby" had it not been canceled, Drysdale said. Becrux, a winner of a division of Del Mar's Oceanside Stakes, is scheduled to run on opening day in the $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes, where his rivals include Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzards Bay.

Drysdale also has veteran geldings Red Fort and Sarafan on the comeback trail, as well as stakes-class runners Always First and King of Happiness.

Like Drysdale, Frankel, and McAnally, Richard Mandella is another Hall of Fame trainer who has had to mark time with his grass runners. Mandella will try Osidy, the Will Rogers Stakes winner, on dirt in the Malibu Stakes on Monday.

"We were aiming for the Hollywood Derby, but once that was off, we had to bide our time," Mandella said. "He's by Storm Cat, so we want to see if he'll run on dirt. If he can't, we'll go back to the grass with him."

El Roblar, 3, who has won on dirt and turf, will run in next month's Grade 2, $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on the dirt, but also could go back to the turf later this meet.

Mandella has long-distance specialists Rhythm Mad and The Tin Man nearing returns from lengthy layoffs. The Tin Man is entered in a one-mile allowance race on Wednesday. Later this meet, watch for Prospect Park, who was second in the French Derby in 2004.

"He should be in decent shape for the spring," Mandella said. "He could be something."

Rhythm Mad could return in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap on Jan. 1, which also should attract Badge of Silver and Whilly. Badge of Silver, trained by Frankel, has raced exclusively on dirt, while Whilly would be making his first start since a trip to Hong Kong was aborted.

Patrick Biancone is aiming for a March return for Gorella, the filly who was third behind Artie Schiller and Leroidesanimaux in the Breeders' Cup Mile. He has high expectations for Cosmonaut, 3, who recently joined his barn from New York and will run in the Sir Beaufort.

Cosmonaut impressed during a workout in company on the Santa Anita turf on Wednesday. So too did Atlando, a French import who won the Knickerbocker Handicap at Aqueduct in his United States debut and then joined trainer Darrell Vienna's stable. Atlando is pointing for the San Gabriel.