02/15/2006 12:00AM

Turf fillies dream of stakes


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the $75,000 China Doll Stakes three weeks away, races such as Friday's $50,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies on turf have an added significance.

Beginning with the China Doll Stakes, there are turf stakes scheduled regularly in Southern California until the fall, a calendar highlighted by the $750,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park in July and the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks in August.

Some of the fillies starting on Friday could start in those stakes, but must first show they belong. Some have careers that are off to excellent starts.

, trained by Neil Drysdale, may go favored.

Owned by George Strawbridge, Height of Delight won her debut in a maiden race on the hillside turf course on Jan. 29, rallying from 10th in a field of 12 to win by 1 1/2 lengths under Patrick Valenzuela. Valenzuela retains the mount for Friday's race, which has drawn an oversubscribed field of 12 and will have a safety limit of 10 starters.

Height of Delight will have to catch , who was stakes-placed in Ireland last year. Now trained by Jim Cassidy, Romantic Notion beat maidens in her second start last April and returned to finish second to Abigail Pett by a length in a six-furlong stakes at Leopardstown in July. Abigail Pett went on to win the Group 3 Tower Stakes in Ireland and place in three group stakes in England and Ireland in the fall.

Cassidy also starts Multiple, a promising filly who was second in her U.S. debut on Jan. 15.

Romantic Notion and Hill of Grace are European imports making their first U.S. starts.

won a maiden race on the all-weather surface in England last July, but was fourth or worse in four starts on turf.

Three fillies are making their first starts on turf: Incumbent, Miss Fury, and Steppin Out Rose. Incumbent won her maiden in the mud at Keeneland last October but is winless in four subsequent starts. Miss Fury was last of six in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes last month, and Steppin Out Rose was third in an optional claimer for sprinters on Jan. 27.

has yet to win on turf, but was second in a one-mile maiden race on the surface at Del Mar last summer. Trained by Bill Currin, she later reverted to California-bred company, finishing third in the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies here at Santa Anita in November.