01/24/2006 12:00AM

Atlas Valley looks rock solid


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ian Wilkes, who recently took over a portion of trainer Carl Nafzger's large stable, got his 2006 Gulfstream meet off to a quick start by saddling a pair of winners here last week. Wilkes, a native of Australia, figures to add to that victory total when he sends out Atlas Valley in Thursday's $37,000 feature, a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer.

Wilkes served as Nafzger's assistant for 13 years and has been around Atlas Valley since she began her career as a 2-year-old in 2004. But he will be her trainer of record for the first time when Atlas Valley, a daughter of Capote, starts on Thursday.

In her only previous appearance at Gulfstream, a year ago, Atlas Valley won her maiden when she rallied to get up by a neck going a mile. The performance earned her a start in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, where she finished seventh. She fared better against tougher stakes company later in the season, finishing fourth behind Miss Matched in the Grade 3 Dogwood Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs and fifth in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.

will enter Thursday's feature off her best race yet, a four-length second- level allowance victory at Churchill which earned her a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. She has trained well for her return to south Florida, including a bullet five-furlong work of 59.80 seconds at Palm Meadows.

The stretch-running Atlas Valley should have plenty of pace to run at with speedsters No Llores Catita, La Aspera, Mertie M, and Flying Falcon in the lineup.

earned a 94 Beyer two starts back when she finished a tiring fifth in the Dream Supreme Handicap at Churchill. Trainer David Kassen has taken advantage of the optional $75,000 claiming price of this race to drop No Llores Catita into the softest spot she has encountered in some time.

led throughout in a pair of five-furlong allowance races at Delaware last summer and figures to be on or close to the lead breaking from the rail. She is one of only three members of this field, along with Atlas Valley and Uchita, with a win over the track.

Rupert's Prospect tailed off a bit in her final two starts at 3 after posting a pair of easy allowance victories at Calder during the fall, and like Atlas Valley should relish a fast pace.