05/08/2002 11:00PM

Win a Feu back to dirt for sprint


PHOENIX - Odds are that if you told owner/trainer Arlene Phillips her crack mare Nikki's Angel was going to run six furlongs in 1:08.60 in the April 27 Ann Owens Distaff Handicap she would have jumped for joy knowing she had won.

Well, she did win in that fast time, but she wasn't in the spotlight on her own - she dead-heated with the very fast Knoll Lake, 10 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Phillips will take it, and odds are her mare won't have to run quite so fast to get the win this time in Saturday's $22,000 Excess Energy at Turf Paradise. The six-furlong event for fillies and mares drew a field of nine.

Nikki's Angel comes here at the height of her powers. Off a layoff of nearly a year, she lost her first two return races in the winter here and some were wondering if she was going ever to be the same.

She rebounded with a win in an optional claimer, before a wide, no-factor trip in the Cactus Flower. She then bounced back again, however, running second to Win a Feu, the Cactus Flower winner, in an optional claimer, before her big Ann Owens effort. She will again have to deal with Win a Feu here.

Vince Guerra will ride Nikki's Angel from post No. 3. The presence of Guerra is encouraging - he has also been the regular rider for Nothingbutfastnred, who comes here off two straight victories.

Win a Feu, however, is the likely favorite. Trained by Michael Lenzini, the mare has fired nothing but bullets since coming here from California in February. Her campaign has seen her win the Cactus Flower and an optional claimer.

She comes off a tough nose loss to the talented Balboa Park in the Ocean Bay at a mile on the turf, though she was put back to third by the stewards. But sprinting on dirt is her main strength, and she's back to that here. Hoogie Drexler rides.

It would have been tough to envision Nothingbutfastnred challenging this group just a couple months ago, but the filly, trained by Myron Kumke, has blossomed of late. After being a non-factor fifth routing on dirt for a $10,000 claiming price, Kumke doubled her in value to the $20,000 claiming level and put her back sprinting. It paid off. At 13-1 she pressed the pace and drew clear to win by two.

Kumke moved her up even more for her next one. She came back in the Brumbeau Stakes April 16, and at 8-1 dueled hard every step of the way to prevail by a neck.

She is obviously in the best form of her life, but regular rider Guerra instead ends up on Nikki's Angel. Steve Gomez gets the call for this in post 6.