11/09/2004 12:00AM

Turf sprint has obvious standout

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ALBANY, Calif. - Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature is at the unusual distance of 4 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Unforgetabull, who has won her past two starts and four of her most recent five, will likely be favored again, as she has in her past four starts, when she takes on a full field in the $32,000 claimer for fillies and mares 3 years old and up. Eleven signed up for the event, with Miss Masten on the also-eligible list.

"I always want to have horses in these races," said Unforgetabull's trainer, John F. Martin, who reached the 100-victory mark for the second straight year on Saturday. "Maybe it takes me back to my days with the Quarter Horses when I was first starting."

Martin will start Unforgetabull - who has a victory and a third-place finish at the distance but has never run over the Golden Gate turf course - as well as American Anthem.

Unforgetabull won on the dirt in her last start after rain forced the race off the turf.

"I didn't know how she'd do on the main track against those, but she's sharp right now," Martin said. "The fact she did win on the dirt shows how sharp she is."

This is a competitive race, with plenty of runners with flashy credentials. It is, though, Unforgetabull's race to lose.

She has good speed, but, as she proved in her last turf start, she has a gameness that makes her hard to beat.

"You have to find a horse that likes that race," Martin said. "Everyone thinks horses with speed want to go short, but a lot of them don't like it."

The shorter distance would seem to play to speed, but as many come from off the pace as go wire to wire. Some horses, like Is it True Mex, win by taking the lead, stalking, or coming off the pace. Inside or an extreme outside draw does not matter.

Unforgetabull generally wins on the front end. American Anthem and Off to the Opera both stalked Unforgetabull and came up short last time. Off to the Opera, closest to her early, will be making her third start after a layoff and should be set for her best try.

Wild Girl was third to Marwood in her last start on March 26 and may need a race.

Miss Tropics and Bold Mystique will provide pace pressure, but Unforgetabull, with three wins, a second, and a third in five turf starts, is tough.

"We're in a great position," Martin said. "We bought the horse cheap. She has one of the roughest legs I've ever seen, but she loves these races. I'll run her every time they write one."