04/12/2006 11:00PM

Who will fire off layoff?


Three fillies and mares who won graded stakes in 2005 - all coming off lengthy layoffs - add some spice to Maryland's first grass stakes of the season.

, who upset the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland at 18-1 last October, and Grade 3 winners Humoristic and Smart N Classy head a full field of 14 for the $85,000 Dahlia Stakes, the feature on Saturday's closing-day program at Laurel Park.

Handicappers must decide which horses are likely to be ready rather than rusty for the one-mile Dahlia.

Sweet Talker was given an extended vacation after the QE II, the biggest win of her career. She has the advantage of having won a stakes win over Laurel's turf course last September.

Previously trained by Ken McPeek and his former assistant Helen Pitts, Sweet Talker will be making her first start since coming to Graham Motion's barn.

"She's fit enough to race. She's been in steady training since January," Motion said. "This figures to be a good starting point for her. I like the fact that it's a mile in distance."

Motion has gone 3 for 8 for a $3.70 return on investment with turf horses returning from long layoffs in stakes races the past three years.

, winner of the Grade 3 Violet at The Meadowlands last October, and her uncoupled stablemate, Art Fan, will both be racing for the first time since November.

Trainer Hamilton Smith, who is just 4 for 32 since 2003 with turf horses first time back after extended rest, said it's difficult to gauge which mare is better at this point.

"[Humoristic] is a bit more accomplished than Art Fan," Smith said. "Both of them are game and are fairly close in ability. Humoristic has a bit less tactical speed than the other mare. She lays back a little more off the pace."

, who must overcome post 13 and a short run to the first turn, captured the Grade 3 Eatontown over soft turf at Monmouth last summer. She needed two preps following a seven-month layoff, however, to do so.

Cozy Gain drew clear by three lengths two weeks ago against optional claimers and is 2 for 3 over the course.