04/24/2006 11:00PM

All eyes will be on Sam's Ace in Snow Chief

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is more at stake than the $250,000 purse of the Snow Chief Stakes on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

For the improving colt Sam's Ace, the 1 1/8-mile Snow Chief for California-bred 3-year-olds could lead to a return to the national stage. For horseplayers questioning the quality of the Florida Derby, Sam's Ace will provide a clue.

Sam's Ace started from an almost impossible post (11) in the Florida Derby, and raced wide throughout.

"From the post, and the competition, he ran dynamite," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Sam's Ace finished fourth, beaten only 5 3/4 lengths by Barbaro, who will be among the favorites in the Kentucky Derby.

It was a hard race on Sam's Ace, who has won 3 of 5. His reaction caused O'Neill to dismiss the idea of coming back in last weekend's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

"Once he told us that would have been too much to do, we backed off that," O'Neill said.

It does not mean he is off the Triple Crown trail.

"The Preakness is definitely something we've talked about," O'Neill said.

A possible start in that race would depend on how Sam's Ace runs as the likely favorite in the Snow Chief. Furthermore, a win by Sam's Ace would flatter the Florida Derby win by Barbaro as he heads into the Kentucky Derby.

Sam's Ace is only the second-best horse O'Neill runs in the $1.3 million California Gold Rush program on Sunday at Hollywood. Lava Man, Grade 1 winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and last year's Hollywood Gold Cup, runs in the $150,000 Khaled Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

With earnings of $2,184,706 from 29 starts, Lava Man ranks eighth on the list of all-time leading California-bred money winners. Moscow Burning, the third-leading female with $1,269,000 from 27 starts, could move past Brown Bess ($1,300,920) and into second. Moscow Burning runs 1 1/16 miles on turf Sunday in the $150,000 Fran's Valentine, a race named in honor of the all-time leading California-bred female money winner. Fran's Valentine earned $1,375,465.

Congrats retired, to stand in Florida

Graded-stakes winner Congrats has been retired and sold to Cloverleaf Farms in Ocala, Fla., where he will stand at stud next spring. A 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy, Congrats ranked just below the best of the California handicap division last year for trainer Richard Mandella, but finished seventh in both starts this year.

"Nothing was wrong, he just was not running as well as last year," Mandella said.

Congrats won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in early 2005 at Santa Anita, and finished second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Congrats retires with 7 wins and earnings of $978,960 from 24 starts.

Solis will ride Diplomat Lady in Oaks

Brother Derek's jockey, Alex Solis, will have an early idea of how well speed is holding Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs. Solis has been named to ride front-runner Diplomat Lady in the Kentucky Oaks next Friday, one day before the Derby.

Diplomat Lady won the Beaumont Stakes on April 13 at Keeneland under Cornelio Velasquez, who is committed to Ashland Stakes winner Bushfire in the Oaks. Diplomat Lady was ridden by Tyler Baze in four previous starts; a change was made after two subpar races this winter at Santa Anita.

"Tyler is a great rider; we were looking for a rider to get her to settle," trainer Christopher Paasch explained.

Diplomat Lady has won 4 of 8, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December.

Chinese Dragon will await Shoemaker

A foot bruise will prevent multiple stakes winner Chinese Dragon from running Saturday in either the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, or the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park. Trainer Bob Hess said Chinese Dragon, who is 6 for 11 going a mile on turf, came out of his second-place finish in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap on April 8 with a bruise that he was unable to work through.

"He's back jogging, and he'll run in the Shoemaker Mile," Hess said.

That race is May 29 at Hollywood.

The 118-pound co-topweights in the Inglewood will be Prospect Park and Red Fort, both racing for the first time since last year. Red Fort has been out 10 months with an ankle injury. Trained by Neil Drysdale, he finished second last June in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap. Group 3 winner Prospect Park will be making his U.S. debut for trainer Richard Mandella. He scratched from a March 31 allowance race at Santa Anita when he tied up the day before the race.

Giacomo's next race uncertain

The Santa Anita Handicap took more out of Giacomo than expected, which is why he has only two slow, breezing workouts since his fifth-place finish March 4.

"The Santa Anita Handicap was a tough race on him," trainer John Shirreffs said Tuesday. "He needed to regroup a little. We'll probably look for a race here at Hollywood Park."

Giacomo, $102.60 winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, is expected to have his first breeze since April 3 later this week. Giacomo is not being pointed to a specific race.

Good month for Valdivia

Jockey Jose Valdivia and his wife, Renee, are proud parents of their first child. Siena Valdivia was born Tuesday at 2:31 a.m. at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. Siena weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 19 1/2 inches.

April was a good month all the way around for Valdivia, who ended the Santa Anita meet 15th in the standings with 20 wins. Valdivia rode seven winners the past 2 1/2 weeks of the meet, and guided Buzzards Bay to a daylight win April 8 in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

Declan's Moon works out

Declan's Moon moved one step closer to a comeback Tuesday at Hollywood Park, where he posted the first workout of his most recent return. Declan's Moon worked three furlongs for trainer Ron Ellis in 37.80 seconds.

A 4-year-old gelding who is 5 for 5 and was named champion 2-year-old of 2004, Declan's Moon has not raced since winning the Grade 2 Santa Catalina in March 2005.