03/21/2008 11:00PM

Rice tries to make mark at meet

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Linda Rice has been conspicuous by her absence at Gulfstream Park this winter, having started just seven horses at the meet. But the well-respected New York-based trainer figures to make her presence felt when she sends out Dicey D J among the key contenders in Monday’s $41,500 allowance feature for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

Dicey D J has made two starts this meet. A daughter of Milwaukee Brew, she finished third going 7 1/2 furlongs in her 3-year-old debut and fifth after contesting the pace through midstretch when sent 1 1/16 miles six weeks later. The field for that race was a strong one that included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher Backseat Rhythm.

Dicey D J will turn back to five furlongs for Monday’s headliner, a distance shorter than Rice would prefer.

“I was hoping to bring her back at 7 1/2 furlongs or a mile, but the races didn’t go so I’m using this one by default,” Rice said. “But she broke her maiden going six furlongs and she’s got a lot of tactical speed, so I think she’ll be able to put herself in good position and run well.”

Dicey D J will be ridden by Eibar Coa for the first time. The meet’s leading jockey, Coa replaces Cornelio Velasquez, who had been aboard Dicey D J in 3 of her first 4 starts. Velasquez has opted to take the call on Validain, who may go postward the slight favorite despite the fact she’s never raced on grass.

Validain has not started since finishing third after chasing the pace of ultimate winner American County in the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Oaks on Jan. 26. Five weeks earlier, Validain closed out her 2-year-old campaign with a one-sided 4 1/2-length maiden special weight tally at Calder.

Leading trainer Todd Pletcher wins at a 25 percent clip with horses making their first start out of his barn. That statistic applies to Lacadena, who was transferred to Pletcher’s stable following her fourth-place finish in the one-mile Grade 3 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine in September. Lacadena has trained forwardly for her return with a series of good works at Palm Beach Downs.

Grand Obsession is another member of this lineup with little grass experience but a high turn of speed, and she too figures to be a factor if she handles the course. Grand Obsession is coming off a second-place finish behind Betty Is Ready as the 4-5 favorite under $50,000 starter allowance conditions on Feb. 16.