06/11/2004 11:00PM

Chance Dance gets first stakes victory


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In the middle of last summer, the filly Chance Dance needed a break from racing, and when she came back last November, trainer Merrill Scherer entered her in a $30,000 conditioned claiming race. Saturday, eight starts later, Chance Dance became a stakes winner, hanging on for a narrow victory over Julie's Prize, the heavy favorite, in the Estrapade Handicap.

It has been that kind of year for Scherer, who was unconscious over the winter at Fair Grounds, and has won almost 30 percent of his starts during 2004. Scherer, based at Churchill Downs, made the right call by leaving Chance Dance in the $75,000 Estrapade, which was scheduled for turf but was rained onto dirt. Chance Dance's transition from claiming horse to stakes winner coincided with a switch to turf, but she ran as well as she ever has in scoring by a head over Julie's Prize.

Ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr., Chance Dance pressed the pace of the stretch-out sprinter It's Spooky, who ran her first quarter-mile in 24.57 seconds and a half in 49.13. Coming off the far turn, Chance Dance disposed of It's Spooky, who held on well to finish third, but now Julie's Prize was the threat. Julie's Prize, at least four paths wide on the far turn, began gaining steadily at the three-sixteenths pole and had a chance to win in the last furlong, but Chance Dance held firm.

"I knew she was coming," Marquez said, "but I think I got the jump on her."

He had, and that gave Chance Dance, the property of Robert Bernacki, Tom Burek, and Scherer himself, a stakes win in the 14th start of her career. Chance Dance ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.54 and paid $8.40 to win.