08/11/2003 11:00PM

Turf chant: Rain, rain stay away


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Jersey Shore beachgoers and racing fans have their fingers crossed for this weekend, fervently wishing for relief from the relentless siege of rainy weather.

Near-record rain this summer has left the turf course at Monmouth Park severely underutilized. Most are hoping the fillies and mares will be back on the grass Sunday for the weekend's main event, the Grade 3, $100,000 Matchmaker Handicap.

The 1 1/8-mile race could be one of the most competitive of the meeting.

The likely lineup, and their weight assignments: Affirmed Dancer (114 pounds), runner-up in the Grade 3 Gallorette on the Preakness Day undercard; Cocktailsanddreams (112), sixth in Monmouth's Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap; France Soir (111), a Monmouth allowance winner on July 31; Lady Linda (115), runner-up in the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs; Something Ventured (117), second in the Eatontown; Southern Fiction (115), fifth in the Eatontown; Twilights Prayer (113), winner of the Spruce Fir Stakes at Monmouth; and at least one runner from the Christophe Clement stable, which has nominated Dress to Thrill (121), Love N' Kiss S. (114), Mariensky (119), Sixty Seconds (115), and Volga (116).

In such a solid group, Twilights Prayer, a 5-year-old mare, gets overlooked despite a solid record over the Monmouth turf course. She won the last two runnings of the Spruce Fir for New Jersey-breds and has competed effectively in open allowance races for trainer Gary Contessa.

"She's in great shape again," said Kim Laudati, who oversees Contessa's Monmouth division. "She's sound. We know it's going to be a really tough race but we like the way she's rounding into it. We're going to try."

All six of Twilights Prayer's wins have come on the turf and she has won three of her last five outings.

Three turf races Thursday

Three turf races are scheduled for Thursday's card, including the featured $41,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles.

Four-year-old gelding Cryptic Code will be one of the key contenders. Trained by J.R.S. Fisher, he was a hard-charging second last time out in a grass allowance at Colonial Downs. Jose C. Ferrer, solidly second in the Monmouth standings, has the mount.