03/11/2004 12:00AM

Tina Bull one to beat in Krantz

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NEW ORLEANS - Just because Lady Tak won't be ready to race until next month doesn't mean Steve Asmussen is without a horse for the $75,000 Marie Krantz Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds. Lady Tak is scheduled to make her 2004 debut at Keeneland, but , another Asmussen-trained horse, fits well enough that she is likely to be favored in the Marie Krantz.

Nine horses were entered in the six-furlong race, but Handpainted, winner of the Pan Zareta Handicap by a length over Tina Bull, was not among them. Contention still runs deep: Put Me In, Savorthetime, Distinctive Code, Vicki Vallencourt, and Allspice all appear to be contenders.

They all have Tina Bull to beat, which is fairly surprising, since she cost just $17,000 at auction and lost her third start by more than 36 lengths. It was then that Asmussen began training Tina Bull, who has since won 4 of 8 starts, including a third in the Grade 3 Raven Run last fall.

"She's surprised me on several occasions," Asmussen said. "I was impressed with her when she won her maiden race, and look how far she's come since then."

Handpainted ran well to win the Pan Zareta, and Tina Bull didn't have an ideal trip that day. She has come back with a string of impressive breezes, and Asmussen said she enters the Marie Krantz in strong shape.

Put Me In finished a distant fourth in the Pan Zareta, but the race might have come up too quickly after Put Me In's excellent win in the Leggio Handicap here. With a longer rest this time, Put Me In can do better.

So might Savorthetime, who showed nothing in the Leggio, but won 4 of 6 starts last year and has been training well for trainer Al Stall. Distinctive Code is a much better horse than she has shown in two starts this meet, and Vicki Vallencourt makes her first start since November and can win if she returns sharp. Allspice is a middle-distance horse stuck in a sprint race, but she would have won a comeback race at 5 1/2 furlongs last out if not for trouble.

* The promising 3-year-old turf horse Timo makes his first start since Jan. 1 in Saturday's second race. Timo won the Pilgrim and the Mecke stakes as a 2-year-old, and had an impossible trip when he finished eighth in his last start, the Tropical Park Derby.