01/08/2008 12:00AM

Stall has two fresh and fit


If you don't like Al Stall's horse to win the Thursday feature at Fair Grounds, then there's a good chance you like Al Stall's horse to win it.

Illogical? Not when you consider that Stall sends out the top two contenders in a second-level allowance race carded for about 1 1/16 miles on grass. Both Block and Final Refrain look perfectly capable of winning, but bettors will have to choose one or the other, since the two will race uncoupled in the wagering.

Stall seems to have a net thrown over the race, but no trainer likes running against himself, especially for different owners.

"It's unfortunate they ended up in the same race, but that's Mother Nature's fault," Stall said.

Block was rained out of an intended turf race at the same class level last month, and it has been more than six weeks since her most recent start, a close sixth-place finish in the Pago Hop Stakes. That was her first start since being transferred into Stall's barn, and her first following a five-month layoff, but Block remains fit and ready to fire, in Stall's view.

"I got a good, strong work into her," Stall said, "She hasn't missed a beat."

Block's five-furlong breeze in 1:00.60 on Jan. 1 was the co-fastest of the morning at the distance. The other horse to work the same time was Final Refrain, though the two did not breeze together.

Final Refrain will also be making her first start since late November, but that probably is a good thing, since Stall describes Final Refrain as narrow and light-bodied. Unlike Block, who doesn't handle dirt, Final Refrain can show her best on different surfaces, and won an off-the-turf entry-level allowance on Nov. 25. That was Final Refrain's first race since Sept. 2, when she won a Saratoga maiden race on grass.

"She's a very nice filly, and she's on the improve, so hopefully everything's okay there," Stall said.

Eight others were entered in the race, but on paper, no one looks as good as the Stall horses. Pectoralis Major exits a 3 1/2-length victory over the Fair Grounds grass course, but that was a rare breakthrough performance from a mare who has won only twice in 20 career starts.

Marquise, who will make her first start since a disappointing effort on Nov. 15 at Churchill, has never raced on grass, but could emerge as a prominent player if the local weather forecast - which calls for rain throughout the week - holds true, and forces another switch to dirt.