07/16/2002 11:00PM

Castling in Valkyr comeback


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On the opening weekend of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting in April, Smokin' Charlotte won her first important race in the $175,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes.

On Friday, the start of the closing weekend of the meeting, Smokin' Charlotte will be heavily favored to win her second stakes in the restricted $75,000 Valkyr Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares over a mile on turf. The Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting closes on Sunday.

The 4-year-old Smokin' Charlotte, trained by John Sadler, faces five others, including Castling, who is returning from a layoff, and Proud Tammie, the winner of an allowance race for turf sprinters on June 26.

Smokin' Charlotte has not started since the Fran's Valentine, but has shown a steady pattern of workouts in recent weeks. She will be ridden by Victor Espinoza and is seeking her fourth career win.

The Valkyr is run under allowance race conditions for nonwinners of four races or nonwinners of three other than maiden, claiming or starter.

Castling is returning from a five-month layoff, following a third in an allowance race at Santa Anita in February. In her only stakes appearance, the former maiden claimer finished a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes in January.

"Her feet were a little bad," trainer Bill Currin said of her wintertime form. "She had started to lose a little interest. I think she's happy now."

Currin said that Castling is ready for a comeback, mentioning her recent works of seven furlongs in 1:26.60 on July 10 and a half-mile in 48.60 seconds on July 15.

Castling has won three of her eight starts, but was beaten in her only appearance on turf, when she ran fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita last January. She drew the rail in the Valkyr and is likely to be a pace factor along with Proud Tammie, who is trained by Jerry Fanning.

Proud Tammie has won two of her last four starts, scoring wins in allowance races at Santa Anita in April and in her most recent start. She can lead but is best from a stalking position.

Castling and Proud Tammie will be well in front of Meteor Game, Mind for Gold, and Exclusiveandcatty, who won a $40,000 claimer on July 7. Trained by Jay Robbins, Exclusiveandcatty was fifth in the Frans Valentine Stakes, losing by more than six lengths to Smokin Charlotte.

Mind for Gold was stakes-placed in 2001 but has not started since last September.

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