10/24/2006 12:00AM

Royal Leah looks good if it's dry


CHICAGO - There probably are no plans for Royal Leah to migrate from an allowance race Thursday at Hawthorne to a stakes race in Kentucky - not that such a scenario is implausible. A filly named Bottiglia did just that last weekend, parlaying a fourth-place finish in a Hawthorne second-level allowance grass race into a tough-luck half-length second-place finish at 79-1 Sunday in the $150,000 Dowager Stakes at Keeneland.

Mike Stidham trains Bottiglia, and Royal Leah, too, and if Stidham used Bottiglia's comeback race at Hawthorne as a stakes prep, a win by Royal Leah on Thursday would be a satisfying end in itself, not just the means to an end.

First, Royal Leah has to make the starting gate, and that won't happen if the local weather forecast holds. The Hawthorne turf course already is sodden from persistent fall rain, and more was forecast for Wednesday night into Thursday. Stidham kept Royal Leah in an off-the-turf race on Oct. 5, and at 3-5, Royal Leah finished fourth of five, beaten 21 lengths.

Royal Leah will be scratched if Thursday's sixth-race feature - a second-level Illinois-bred allowance - comes off grass, but if it stays on, she may be favored. Lightly raced with only six starts, Royal Leah returned from a long layoff this summer at Arlington, and, after her off-the-turf maiden win, moved forward when moved to grass. In her turf debut she finished second in her first try against other winners, then won an Illinois-bred entry-level allowance by six lengths, a performance that makes Royal Leah look like a serious win threat Thursday.

Besides Royal Leah, the prime turf contenders appear to be Now, Charlie's Looker, second-place-prone Rojo Sol, and outside-drawn Gambling Green. Mz. Winjum and Play Dixie move up with a switch to dirt. Political Hostage has a chance on either surface.

Now needed six tries to knock out her first Illinois-bred allowance condition, finally winning from post 11 on Sept. 27 in her most recent start. Now lacks tactical speed, and may depend more on an honest pace than a horse like Royal Leah.

Charlie's Looker was transformed from a struggling conditioned claimer to a legitimate statebred allowance horse when she was switched to turf this summer.