10/03/2006 12:00AM

As usual, turf races are crowded


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the introduction of synthetic surfaces, old-fashioned dirt racing may soon become a historical footnote in Southern California. But as the autumn season hits full swing, turf is still authentic and it remains the surface over which many of the best races are run.

Grass races averaged one additional starter per race than dirt races opening week of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita (8.8 starters per race on grass, 7.9 on dirt), and the trend continues Thursday, when the two best races are on grass.

A full field of 2-year-old maiden fillies entered race 4 at one mile; a full field of first-level allowance fillies and mares entered race 7.

Pink Polkadots is the race-4 chalk, based on her runner-up finish Aug. 18 at Del Mar under the same conditions - one mile on turf. Trained by Ron McAnally, Pink Polkadots rallied extremely wide under Alex Solis to finish second in a race that produced three next-start winners.

The winner, Spenditallbaby, returned to win an allowance at Golden Gate; fourth-place Against the Law scored a resounding maiden special weight win at Fairplex; sixth-place Stormin Jo Jo returned to win a maiden special weight at Golden Gate.

Pink Polkadots can win Thursday if she avoids losing so much ground. If she falls short, at least three others are qualified to spring upsets. Gout de Terroir, by Lemon Drop Kid, closed ground in her seventh-place dirt sprint debut, and as a half-sister to Pleasantly Perfect she should appreciate the extra distance.

Masterful Lass, by Mizzen Mast and out of an Affirmed mare, has aimed for a turf route since a modest third in her second start. Lainey Lu is by Unusual Heat, who undoubtedly is the best turf sire in California. Eleven of the 13 fillies in race 4 can start.

Race 7 is at 1 1/8 miles, so nine of the 11 can start.

Temperance scored an impressive U.S. debut in the final race of the Del Mar meet, rallying from behind to beat maiden special weight foes going away. The visually impressive performance, combined with solid European form, stamps her as a primary contender Thursday.

But the early favorite is Big Promise, runner-up by a nose in two straight first-level allowance races at Del Mar. She squandered a perfect trip last out, while third-place finisher Tuff Muffin rallied from last, had to wait for room into the lane, and finished fastest. Tuff Muffin can turn the tables on Big Promise in the $44,000 allowance; but they both must defeat Temperance.