09/06/2007 11:00PM

Velvet Moonlite to hit dirt running


POMONA, Calif. - Two-turn front-runners such as Velvet Moonlite were racing virtually uphill this summer at Del Mar, where the closers bias provided a convenient excuse for every speed horse unable to stay a route on the slow Polytrack surface.

Velvet Moonlite weakened to third last out at Del Mar in a mile allowance after leading until inside the eighth pole. When she sets the pace Sunday in the $65,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes at Fairplex Park, the 4-year-old filly could be long gone.

Eight fillies and mares entered E.B. Johnston, and Velvet Moonlite will welcome a return to a traditional dirt surface as she tries to carry her speed 1 1/16 miles on the five-eighths-mile Fairplex track. Velvet Moonlite might not win, but it won't be the surface that gets her beat.

David Flores will ride Velvet Moonlite for trainer Cliff Sise and owner Doris Johnson. The filly's chances depend on how much pressure she gets from back-class Quiet Kim and stretch-out Debie Ginsburg. The field also includes Fairplex specialist I Can See, turf mares Mashina and Missatacama, and longshots Follow the Clues and Valiant Blues.

The Del Mar meet has ended, but the Polytrack influence continues and one of the biggest challenges facing handicappers this fall is comprehension of the slow Polytrack fractions. When Velvet Moonlite ran a mile at Del Mar on Aug. 2, she was not exactly tearing up the track.

Velvet Moonlite ran the opening half-mile in 48.62 seconds, and six furlongs in 1:14.31. Slow and slow. However, those splits are faster than they seem. Loosely translated, the fractions would have been 46-and-change and 1:11-and-change on dirt. Quick and quick.

Velvet Moonlite has won 3 of 11 overall, and is the most likely winner. The E.B. Johnston will be her first start on the Fairplex bullring, and she will have to hold off the rally of a Fairplex veteran back for a third campaign.

I Can See won the Black Swan Stakes at Fairplex by nine lengths as a 2-year-old in 2005 and last year finished second in the E.B. Johnston Stakes. The one-eyed filly has raced four times at Fairplex - one win, two seconds, and a third, all in stakes. Trained by Steve Knapp and owned by Michael Miller, I Can See will be ridden by Agapito Delgadillo.

Debie Ginsburg stretches out to a route of ground after a fourth-place sprint at Del Mar. Quiet Kim has not returned to her good 3-year-old form of last year.

The Johnston is race 12 on a 13-race card.