01/28/2002 1:00AM

Ruff is iffy proposition off injury


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ruff was considered among the leaders of the 3-year-old filly turf division here last winter after winning the Via Borghese Stakes. But after she underwent throat surgery in the fall, even trainer David Donk isn't sure what to expect when Ruff makes her 4-year-old debut against six rivals in Wednesday's $40,000 allowance feature.

Ruff tailed off badly after losing by a nose to Fiddle in Delaware's Christiana Stakes on July 1, finishing far back in both the Lake George Stakes and Lake Placid Handicaps at Saratoga to put a premature end to her 2001 campaign. Surgery has likely corrected the problem, but Donk won't know for sure until she's tested under battle conditions Wednesday.

"She's trained well, but you never know how she's going to be until we run her," he said. "You can throw out her last two starts. She was holding her breath in both races because of the throat trouble. This is a pretty contentious race and she will get tested a bit. She doesn't have to win to please me. She just has to run well."

If Ruff isn't her old self or needs a race first time back, Wednesday's race could boil down to a battle between European invader Chestnut Bird and the Calder-based duo of Grey Ballet and Jennasietta.

Chestnut Bird makes her U.S. debut for trainer Bill Mott. A daughter of Storm Bird, Chestnut Bird was a listed stakes winner in France last summer and has captured three of eight starts overall.

Grey Ballet has been idle since winning Calder's Lenta Stakes on Nov. 17, but the 4-year-old runs well fresh and has been working well for her return.

Jennasietta rallied from far back to finish second under similar conditions last out. She was third, beaten just over a length by Grey Ballet, in the Lenta.

* In the supporting feature, the promising Far Sighted Sal will be heavily favored to keep her record unblemished going 6 1/2 furlongs under second level allowance conditions. She is perfect in two starts, including an impressive allowance victory here Jan. 9.

"She's won her first two races easily and isn't even fit and still doesn't understand what racing is all about yet," said trainer Carl Nafzger. "I don't really know how good she is, but if she breaks they'll have to beat her."

Far Sighted Sal has drawn post 1 and will again be ridden by Pat Day.

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