01/24/2007 1:00AM

Shorter trip the spark Kindling needs

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Rain has recently ruled New Orleans, but a timely break in the clouds could allow Fair Grounds to conduct turf racing Friday. Thursday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, Friday’s for sun, and Kindling just might get to make her intended start in the Friday feature, a second-level filly and mare allowance race carded for about 7 1/2 furlongs on Fair Grounds’s grass course – wet grass course, that is.

“You don’t have to go out and walk the turf course to know that,” said Merrill Scherer, Kindling’s trainer. “You just walk in someone’s front yard.”

Kindling will be scratched if Friday’s ninth race gets moved to dirt, Scherer said. If it stays on, she looks like the horse to beat, especially at this decidedly middle distance. Scherer claimed Kindling for $40,000 at the Keeneland fall meet, clearly with an eye toward the Fair Grounds grass season, and she has turned in good efforts in two tries over this course, finishing second both times. On Dec. 10, Kindling stalked the pace, pounced at the top of the stretch and took the lead, only to be nailed late. Her race Jan. 8 looked like a replay. Both starts were over 1 1/16 miles, and Kindling’s best form has come at a mile.

“Two times she got to the lead turning for home and they got her,” Scherer said. “Maybe the last time the better horse beat me. The first time, she’d been off, and she may have just been a race away.”

Kindling might have to hold off a late run from Rolling Sea, a stakes dropper who looks like the horse to beat should the race get moved to dirt, and one of the main contenders on grass. Rolling Sea, from the Steve Asmussen barn, missed by less than a length last out in the off-the-turf Furl Sail Handicap. Two races ago, in her turf debut, she finished third in the Pago Hop.

At least two others deserve attention: Tale of the Devil and Bridge Game. Tale of the Devil has two wins and a second in her three turf starts, but all were sprints on the Woodbine course, and Tale of the Devil hasn’t shown she can race as effectively around two turns. Bridge Game won a maiden race and an entry-level allowance on the Arlington turf course last summer, finished second in a Keeneland second-level turf allowance, and then wound up over her head in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill. Friday’s race lands her in an easier spot, but Bridge Game drew poorly on the far outside.