11/24/2006 1:00AM

Watch out for Laguna Beach

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Laguna Beach has been a pleasant development for trainer Dennis Patterson.

Strong-minded when she arrived in his barn earlier this year, she has, Patterson said, "mellowed out," and has won her last three sprint tries.

She is a contender in Sunday's feature, a $62,500 optional claimer at five furlongs on the turf. Six fillies and mares are entered, including three stakes winners: Light My Ducks, Swingn' Notes, and Cinderella Liberty. Cut the Mustard and Apollonesian round out the field.

Laguna Beach won her maiden for a $32,000 tag at Golden Gate in September and has won both of her sprints since, a starter allowance at Golden Gate and an entry-level allowance at Bay Meadows Oct. 29.

Her lone loss since her maiden score came going 1 1/16 miles on turf in a Golden Gate starter allowance Sept. 17. Patterson doesn't think Laguna Beach disliked the turf. He points to comments made by jockey Luis Martinez after that race.

"Martinez said when she makes the lead, she waits on horses," Patterson said. "The day she ran on grass, she got the lead. Maybe she tired or maybe she was waiting.

"Her best race seems to be as a closing sprinter. She's better if she doesn't make the lead until late."

Patterson and Martinez don't have to worry about making the lead early Sunday.

The speedy Cut the Mustard, who has a five-furlong win on the turf here, drew the rail and she'll definitely be gunning for the early lead.

Cut the Mustard has four victories this year, and bounced back nicely in her last start, which came at this level, after fading badly in a Fairplex stakes race.

Cinderella Liberty, who is entered for a tag, has met stakes company in her past seven starts. She, too, has speed but doesn't seem as quick as Cut the Mustard. She drew the outside post 6.

Laguna Beach has enough speed to be sitting in a good stalking position as she turns for home.

Although he recognizes this is a tough spot, Patterson has confidence Laguna Beach will contend for the victory.

"She's a hard-trying filly," he said. "She gives a professional effort every time."