02/28/2005 12:00AM

Tara's Touch vs. tough crew


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Niall O'Callaghan was hoping to run his South African-bred mare Tara's Touch in last weekend's $100,000 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, but she did not draw in off the also-eligible list.

The good news is that O'Callaghan found another spot for his mare on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park. The bad news is the race is equally as tough for less than half the purse. Still, Tara's Touch could be the right one in a contentious $46,000 allowance feature scheduled for 1 1/16 miles over the Gulfstream turf.

was a multiple stakes winner in South Africa, where she won 7 of 15 starts. She has only raced once in 14 months, that being a second-place finish in the Leggio Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 15.

"She raced very well," O'Callaghan said Monday from Payson Park. "I thought she was an unlucky loser. She's trained well since the race. She's worked very well in New Orleans, and I'm expecting a pretty good run. Obviously, this is a competitive bunch, but I expect her to have a good year, so I suppose these are the kind of horses she'll have to beat to succeed in America."

Tara's Touch shows two solid six-furlong workouts on dirt at Fair Grounds before shipping back to Payson Park. Jerry Bailey rides Tara's Touch, who tries 1 1/16 miles for the first time.

"With the way the turf course is riding down there, if she's going to get a mile and a sixteenth I'd imagine she'd get it there, where the ground is very firm right now," O'Callaghan said.

Whereas the Bill Mott-trained Delta Princess won the Endeavour, it is the Mott-trained who is the one to beat Wednesday. Noisette has not run since finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap last November at Churchill Downs. Her last victory came in the restricted Gaviola Stakes at Belmont in October. Cornelio Velasquez rode her that day, and is back aboard in this spot.

, a multiple Grade 3 stakes winner at Churchill Downs a year ago, returns in this spot. Trainer Mitch Shirota said he is running Shaconage "to see where I'm at. I don't know how tight she is."

Shaconage has had three works, including a nice six-furlong move in 1:15.60 over the Palm Meadows turf course. Manoel Cruz rides.

Vespers, a 7-year-old mare who has twice won over this turf course, Derrianne, and Feisty Bull are others to consider.