08/15/2003 11:00PM

Turf condition key to Matchmaker

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The condition of the Monmouth Park turf course remains the prime concern of trainers planning to run horses Sunday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Matchmaker Handicap for fillies and mares.

The rain-soaked course saw action Thursday for the first time since Aug. 3, but the track ran only one of the scheduled three turf races on the grass Friday afternoon.

The 1 1/8-mile Matchmaker attracted a field of 13 and a host of concerns from trainers.

"My filly does not like a soft course," said Mary Eppler, trainer of Lady Linda.

The footing turned up firm for Lady Linda's last two starts, both at Colonial Downs: an allowance victory and a late-running second despite trouble in the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes.

Vicki Oliver is another trainer with course concerns. She entered Southern Fiction, who ran fifth on a soft course in Monmouth's Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap on July 19.

"I don't think the race is going to come up overly tough," Oliver said. "My concern is the turf. I'm concerned about how soft it's going to be."

Something Ventured carries high weight in the field at 117 pounds. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Something Ventured lost the Eatontown by only a neck after holding a narrow lead at the top of the.