03/11/2010 12:00AM

Trio of grass stakes draws top talent


PHOENIX - You could call Saturday's card at Turf Paradise a mini-turf festival. The Phoenix track has carded three stakes, all at one mile on the grass - the $50,000 Tempe Handicap for 3-year-olds, the $50,000 Desert Sky Handicap for fillies and mares, and the $50,000 Scottsdale Handicap for 3-year-old fillies.

The Tempe drew a field of six, topped by Pinal, who is among the leading 3-year-old males on this circuit, and Amen Baby, who is among the leading 3-year-old males in New Mexico. Both will try turf for the first time.

Pinal, owned by Dennis Weir and trained by Kevin Lewis, has plenty of speed. An Arizona-bred sprint stakes winner, Pinal tried to stretch his speed for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Turf Paradise Derby Feb. 20. He set the pace and finished third, 10 3/4 lengths behind winner Dixie Commander. Amen Baby, owned William Brook Henderson and trained by Phil Hartman, showed his quality when third in the Borderland Derby at Sunland Feb. 27.

The top opponent for Pinal and Amen Baby may be grass-proven Slews Approval. He has won two in a row on grass here, beating maidens Feb. 17 and rallying past $20,000 claimers March 1. He ran second in his only other grass try.

Desert Sky: Markmelauras a speedy one

Markmelauras looks to validate her 33-1 upset in the Feb. 13 Sun City Handicap in the Desert Sky. She squares off against nine other fillies and mares, including Table Mesa, who rallied to be second in the Sun City as the 7-10 favorite.

Markmelauras, trained by Dan Morgan, has won two straight, with speed as her primary weapon. She led all the way to beat allowance foes Jan. 18, and she duplicated that feat in her Sun City upset. Markmelauras worked a strong five furlongs in 58.40 seconds here March 6.

Table Mesa, trained by Sandi Gann, won two straight here in the fall and then was second to Southern California raider Taste's Sis in the Kachina here Dec. 26 and second to another Southern California invader, Dextera, in the Glendale here Jan. 16.

Scottsdale: Tornado Betty trying grass

Tornado Betty is the ranking 3-year-old filly on the circuit and surely the one to beat in the Scottsdale, though she tries grass for the first time. Trained by Ed Kereluk, Tornado Betty romped by four lengths in the Arizona Oaks at a mile on the dirt here Feb. 20, so the trip suits. She's by Comic Strip, a multiple Grade 2 winner on grass and a strong turf sire.

The one to fear among her 10 rivals may be maiden winner High Style. She began her career in Southern California, but after failing to threaten in three grass starts there she came here Feb. 2 and blasted maidens on turf. She is bred to be any kind: Her sire is Giant's Causeway and her dam is Grade 1 winner Tout Charmant.