03/27/2003 1:00AM

Thin line separates contenders on turf


PHOENIX - Less than a length separated Aspen Hill, Moonlit Maddie, and Color Me Fast when they finished one-two-three in an optional claimer at Turf Paradise in early March. Saturday's $35,000 Desert Sky features a rematch of the three - and there remains little difference among them.

The race, for fillies and mares, is at a mile on the turf, the same distance as the March 3 optional claimer.

Because there is so little separating the three, it's difficult to figure who will go favored. Moonlit Maddie is the 120-pound highweight in the field of eight. She was the 8-5 favorite March 3. She finished well in that race and may go favored again.

Trained by Rolland Fergason, Moonlit Maddie breaks from the rail. She's 4 for 10 on this turf course and showed she was still sharp last Sunday with a strong six-furlong work in 1:13.20. Alberto Higuera rides.

Aspen Hill, the winner

March 3, has been on a tear, having won 3 of her last 4. Her last win was her first on turf and only her second try on the surface. She picks up two pounds at 119, but she has more speed than her two key foes and should be in front of them turning for home. Wilson Dieguez rides for trainer Dan McFarlane.

Color Me Fast finished with a flurry to be third in that March 3 race. Trained by Dale Ray, she had finished as high as third only once in her previous five starts, and that last race may signal a turnaround. Mike Ziegler rides at 118 pounds.

Dazzling Diamonds, romping winner of the Kachina Handicap at a mile on the dirt here Dec. 28, was no match for Moonlit Maddie and Aspen Hill in the Glendale on the turf Feb. 8, but has been freshened since. An 11-time winner and four-time winner on turf, she could be ready to fire off the bench. Sandi Gann rides at 118 pounds.

Martinez back in action

It took more than a month for Seth Martinez to recover from a partially collapsed lung and broken ribs suffered in a three-horse spill Feb. 17, but he appears to be back in top form. He returned to the races last Saturday and from limited mounts rattled off three wins in four days.

Stevie Gomez still holds a 120-105 lead over Martinez in the rider standings through Tuesday. Mike Ziegler is third with 94 victories.

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