07/26/2003 12:00AM

Talk Me Again in speedfest

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Talk Me Again had a rough introduction to American racing when she finished last of five in an allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park on July 9.

She battled for the lead with Grant Marty a Wish through a half-mile in 43.41 seconds and faded in her first start since arriving from Argentina last winter.

On Monday at Del Mar, Talk Me Again returns in a $59,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares over five furlongs on turf. She is one of several contenders in a difficult puzzle for bettors.

Trainer Eric Kruljac was not discouraged by Talk Me Again's loss on July 9, citing the fast half-mile as evidence.

"I don't think she was fit," he said. "I had no way of imagining I'd have to run a 43.40. Grant Marty a Wish was more than we could handle without a race or two under our belt. She was dog tired after that race but two or three days later, she was on her toes. She just didn't have her air."

Talk Me Again will have plenty of company on the front Monday but is not committed to being on the lead, Kruljac said. Many of the 10 entrants have shown speed, including Devious Impact, Maria's Mirage, and Rich Musique.

Devious Impact has won two of her last three starts, all in turf sprints.

Maria's Mirage has outstanding sprint form on turf but is making her first start for a claiming price since being taken from a maiden race at Santa Anita in March 2002. Over the last 16 months, Maria's Mirage has won four races, including the Cactus Flower Handicap on dirt at Turf Paradise and the Woodside Handicap over five furlongs on turf at Bay Meadows.

Rich Musique has won on turf but has made the most of her starts on the main track.

She is making her first start for trainer Mike Machowsky, having been claimed for $62,500 on June 25. Rich Musique is one of five fillies and mares entered for a price.

Kruljac is hoping Talk Me Again's recent start, combined with her group stakes form in Argentina last year, will lead to a win.

"I think she can lay off the speed but the others will have to go sub-44 [seconds] to keep up," he said.

Owned by SM Mitchell Ranch, Talk Me Again has another thing in her corner. Her jockey, Tyler Baze, won the first five-furlong turf sprint of the meeting on Thursday.