06/13/2002 11:00PM

Surface for stakes in doubt


ELMONT, N.Y. - With showers falling throughout Friday and more in the forecast for the weekend, Sunday's $100,000 Sands Point Handicap for 3-year-old fillies scheduled for turf is in jeopardy of being moved to the main track for the second consecutive year.

The uncertainty over the weather combined with a lack of a standout on either surface explains why a full field of 14 was entered in the Grade 3 race run at nine furlongs.

The race is wide open on either surface. If it stays on turf, top contenders include Ntombi, Affirmed Dancer, Tarnished Lady, Midnite Deelite, She's Vested, and Maita.

Ntobmi, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Cetewayo, is 3 for 3 on turf and is coming off a convincing 3 3/4-length victory in the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico. Ntombi has yet to run on anything but firm ground, which concerns trainer Michael Dickinson.

"If the race is on soft turf, I don't know how she'll handle it, but her brothers and sisters didn't handle it well so it's unlikely that she will," Dickinson said.

Ntombi will break from post 2 under Jerry Bailey and co-highweight of 119 pounds.

Affirmed Dancer suffered her first defeat in the Revidere Stakes at Monmouth Park when she was forced to go wide while Once Around split horses and outkicked Affirmed Dancer to the wire. Javier Castellano took the mount for trainer John Kimmel.

Castellano gave up the mount on She's Vested after guiding her to an allowance win over this course on May 17. Her Beyer Speed Figure of 90 in that race equals the highest earned by any member of this field on turf.

Tarnished Lady, who has finished behind Affirmed Dancer on two occasions, earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance race here on May 16. Tarnished Lady is a threat on either surface for trainer Todd Pletcher, who won this race last year with Tweedside.

If the race is moved to the dirt, Dubai Fall could be the one to beat. A half-sister to Group 1 winners Charnwood Forest and Medaaly, Dubai Fall won an off-the-turf maiden race by 14 1/4 lengths on May 18. Was her margin a product of her talent or running against mostly turf horses?

"It's a good question," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "I think she's definitely doing better all the time and improving. She has a fabulous pedigree and we're trying hard to get her black type."

If Preferred Option can stretch out to nine furlongs, she would be another contender on dirt. Since returning from Florida, she has won a pair of allowance races here sprinting.

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