01/05/2006 12:00AM

Turnbolt well suited to meet challenge

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When he runs two turns for the first time Saturday in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita, Turnbolt presents handicappers with a familiar dilemma - how do you assess the chances of a horse trying something different?

Three of the four weekend stakes in Southern California are on dirt and offer examples of potential form change when a horse enters uncharted territory. For sprinter Turnbolt, it means forecasting his potential to stay 1 1/16 miles.

The San Pasqual shares the bill with the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes. In that 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, the sudden form improvement of turf-to-dirt Sweet Fourty merits review. Finally, the fast 3-year-old sprinter One Union runs six furlongs Sunday in the $75,000 San Miguel Stakes. It will be his first start since minor surgery last summer.

While speed, pace, class, and condition remain the essential handicapping elements, bettors sometimes must consider factors beyond the obvious. The San Pasqual is the first graded stakes of the meet for the handicap division, and before assessing individual runners it helps to know just what is required to win the race.

The Beyer Speed Figure par for the San Pasqual over the past 10 years is 108. As a guideline to identify contenders, a horse that recently has run within 5 points of par under similar conditions is acceptable. In the San Pasqual, a contender on speed would have to have earned a 103 in a recent two-turn race. It means there is a problem with this year's field.

None of the seven starters recently has run to par in a dirt route. Buckland Manor's recent races are on turf. Turnbolt earned a 107 last out, but in a sprint. Trainer Richard Mandella was asked what qualities Turnbolt possesses that suggest he will stay two turns.

"The way they race and move - action is important," he said. "[Turnbolt] is nice and steady. The ones that fall back and finish, [two turns] does not always work out."

Mandella added that Turnbolt "is just a sweetheart, you can do anything with him."

Turnbolt's running style is likely to play well around two turns. He is presser who also can finish. His Quirin-style pace and speed figures further suggest two-turn potential. All of Turnbolt's speed figures are higher than his pace figures. It means he is running strongly through the lane.

Beyond running style, Turnbolt's pedigree - by Deputy Minister out of a mare by Seeking the Gold - supports his potential success around two turns.

So is Turnbolt a cinch in the San Pasqual? Of course not. And with only seven starters, the race may not even be worth a wager. All it means is that running style, attitude, and pedigree make Turnbolt the horse to beat Saturday in race 7.

The Santa Ysabel (race 3) is the first scheduled two-turn dirt race leading to the Santa Anita Oaks. The Beyer par for the Santa Ysabel is 89; only two entrants recently have run within 5 points of par around two turns - Sabatini and Sweet Fourty. Sabatini finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, beaten three lengths, and was the only horse to make up ground behind the pacesetting one-two finishers.

Taken at face value, the effort qualifies Sabatini for victory in the Santa Ysabel. But her unbalanced running style - no speed, all finish - is counter to the preferred style. Over the past 10 years, only one Santa Ysabel winner was positioned farther back than third after a half-mile (odds-on A.P. Adventure in 2004). Sabatini might win Saturday for the simple reason she is a talented filly. But her main rival will have the early jump.

Sweet Fourty finished sixth in her California debut for Jeff Mullins, compromised by a slow start and unfamiliar footing (turf). When Sweet Fourty, a Calder import, switched to the main track Nov. 27, she was a relative unknown. Sweet Fourty was dismissed at 14-1 in the Sharp Cat Stakes, and ran the race of her career to finish second while more than six lengths clear of third.

Sweet Fourty earned an 89 Beyer, which matches the speed-figure par. And her pressing style gives her the advantage over her deep-closing rival. Itty Bitty Pretty could win by reproducing her sprint form around two turns, but her current condition is uncertain. She has not started since the best race of her career back on Nov. 12, and is attempting two turns for the first time.

Sunday, 3-year-old sprinters race six furlongs in the San Miguel, which has a Beyer par of 105. For an entrant to be considered a contender on speed he must have earned a 100. None of the expected starters has earned a triple-digit figure, though One Union earned a 99 in his debut last August. It is close enough.

One Union underwent minor surgery to remove a bothersome bone spur that contributed to his weakening effort in the Del Mar Futurity. One Union has trained super for his comeback, and enters the San Miguel as the horse to beat.