02/03/2004 12:00AM

Turf sprint contains few tossouts


ARCADIA, Calif. - With a few more races like Thursday's seventh at Santa Anita, the whole process-of-elimination handicapping technique may need to be scrapped. Horseplayers who begin the handicapping process by identifying horses not qualified to win will have a difficult time crossing out any in the feature race.

It is a lot easier to find a horse to wager on, and there are plenty of sensible choices among the 12 fillies and mares entered in the 6 1/2-furlong turf race for first-level allowance runners. Shining Strike and Stop the Talking each scored front-running victories last out on the downhill turf course, yet their wins are tainted because each benefited by a tepid early pace.

Lady Sabrina nearly stole a mile race at odds of 23-1, and the shorter distance works in favor of both her and Night Games.

"Good milers are the best downhill horses," trainer Vladimir Cerin said. He was referring to his filly Night Games, but the appraisal applies to half the field. Chief Little Dan, Night Games, Danmark, Lady Sabrina, Chasethegold, and Anja all shorten up from a route to a sprint. Any of the six could win.

Few others can be eliminated, either. They include Touch Silk, a recent maiden winner; Dialogue, an import from Australia with leading rider Alex Solis; comebacker Montana Beach; and Chilean Group 1 runner-up Dona Goyita. Ten of the 12 entrants will start in the one-other-than allowance, which is unusually deep. Bettors able to find the winner will be suitably rewarded; the favorite may be as high as 4-1.

holds the advantage, though she must break more effectively than she did Jan. 16 in a mile race at the same level.

"She was the speed of the race, and missed the break," Cerin said.

The start all but eliminated Night Games, normally a pace-presser, yet she rallied to be fourth, beaten slightly more than four lengths. Thursday, Night Games will sprint for the first time since she was imported from England. Her running style is indicative of a filly who will appreciate the shorter distance, and the pattern is familiar. Two of Cerin's last seven winners at Santa Anita were downhill turf runners shortening up from two turns.

fits the profile also, though she already is racing for the third time at the meet. Her only previous turf sprint in California resulted in a daylight win Dec. 3 at Hollywood Park. Shining Strike and Stop the Talking ensure a genuine pace. Touch Silk is expected to improve.