03/15/2013 2:53PM

Santa Anita: Irish O'Brien first turf try for Ismene

Shigeki Kikkawa
Ismene, a two-time stakes winner on dirt, projects as the lone speed when she makes her turf debut in Sunday's Irish O'Brien.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The wet-weather comeback by unbeaten stakes winner Ismene was a debacle. Fortunately, she had a convenient alibi – footing.

Ismene slipped and slid on the wet-fast track, her legs cross-fired, and she surrendered early at odds-on. Adding injury to insult, Ismene came out of the fifth-place finish with cuts and scrapes up and down the inside of her right hind leg.

“She did not go to the track for two weeks,” trainer Bill Spawr said.

It was an inauspicious comeback by a good filly returning from a 13-month layoff. The good news for Spawr and owner-breeder Stephen Ferraro is her injuries were superficial. Ismene recovered, and trained well. Sunday at Santa Anita, she will try again.

Eight fillies and mares bred in California entered the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes, a downhill turf sprint. Win or lose, Ismene is the one to catch.

“Nobody has her kind of gas,” Spawr said. “It’s natural for her.”

Ismene is the lone speed in the turf sprint, and if she handles the footing she could be gone. Her chief rivals include stakes-placed Dancingtothestars, deep closer Miss Well Molded, and pace-presser Quizzical.

But if unfamiliar footing was too much for Ismene last time, she faces a similar challenge Sunday. Front-running winner of the Anoakia Stakes and California Breeders’ Stakes as a 2-year-old on dirt, Ismene has never raced on turf.

Will she handle it?

“I don’t know,” Spawr said. “But I know how to find out.”

Based on pedigree, turf should be fine for Ismene. Her sire is multi-surface stallion Tribal Rule; she was produced by a mare who won her debut on the Santa Anita hillside turf course. Mike Smith will ride Ismene, and Spawr said he believes she is primed for a top effort.

“She’s fit. She’s dead fit,” Spawr said, despite two weeks of tack-walking after the Jan. 25 comeback and only three workouts since.

He is confident in Ismene based on her gallops.

“She’s a strong galloper,” Spawr said. “She looks good, and she is carrying good weight. She is very good right now.”

If so, then Ismene can wire the Irish O’Brien field. If not, then Dancingtothestars is a logical alternative. Doug O’Neill trains Dancingtothestars, runner-up in a downhill turf stakes last time and runner-up two starts back racing one mile.

Dancingtothestars, who has won 4 of 11 races and $223,056, will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez.

Miss Well Molded, trained by Ireland native Paddy Gallagher, will roll from the back of the field. Secret Cove, Miss Becca, Bench Glory, and Curvy Cat are also entered.