10/29/2003 1:00AM

San Dare's racing edge coming back


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For a stretch of nine or 10 months, San Dare got some kind of good. Having labored without winning so much as an entry-level allowance, she suddenly became a major player in filly-mare turf stakes, and her career peaked with back-to-back Grade 3 wins at Gulfstream Park last winter.

Unfortunately for owner David Mounts and trainer Rick Hiles, San Dare lost her competitive edge as the year wore on. "I looked up her form and noticed that she hadn't had a break in about 2 1/2 years," Hiles said Wednesday. "So I turned her out on the farm for a little over five weeks, thinking she'd gone stale on us and needed some time off."

Now 5, San Dare was supposed to come back eager and willing when returning from a layoff in the Oct. 10 Indian Maid Handicap at Hawthorne, but, Hiles said, "she absolutely hated their turf course. Her feet are a little tender, and she just kind of ran along [trailing throughout]."

Nonetheless, Hiles is confident that when San Dare runs in the Friday feature at Churchill, horseplayers will see a far more representative showing of a mare who has earned over $477,000. "She's doing as good as ever," he said. "The turf course here is quite a bit different. I think she'll run a whole lot better."

She will need to. Among her five opponents in the ninth-race feature are Quick Tip, a two-time stakes winner who has earned $645,569 for trainer Neil Howard; and May Gator, a tactically dangerous filly who has drawn the services of Pat Day.

"This race is like a stakes," said Richard Klein, who owns May Gator with his parents, Bert and Elaine. "It's a small field but a very tough one."

Like San Dare, May Gator was claimed for $30,000 before she suddenly turned a corner and became a stakes-quality performer.

The rest of the field for the 1 1/16-mile turf race, which carries a $64,600 purse, is Curious Conundrum, Reason to Talk, and Sweetwater Promise. Of those, Reason to Talk probably merits the best chance, having scored an upset win in the Dade Turf Classic nine weeks ago.

The Friday card also includes a Halloween treat: a one-mile starter-allowance that is restricted to grays and roans. It drew a 10-horse field as the fourth of 10 races.