10/03/2008 12:00AM

Connections hope Distant Victory is on the rise

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In 2003 and 2005, Moscow Burning won the California Cup Distance Handicap, victories that helped her earn more than $1 million in her career.

There are no fillies and mares of that magnitude in Sunday's running of the $100,000 Distance Handicap for statebred fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf. At least not yet. Trainer Carla Gaines and owners John Harris and Scott Gross have such hopes for Distant Victory that anything less than a win on Sunday would be a disappointment.

"Maybe she's the next Moscow Burning," Gaines said.

Distant Victory will be a strong favorite in the Distance Handicap, the fourth race on an 11-race program. A 3-year-old filly, Distant Victory has won 3 of 5 starts and $139,596, all this year. She made her stakes debut at Del Mar on Aug. 31, finishing third in the Torrey Pines Stakes against open company on the Polytrack.

On Aug. 7, in the longest race of her career, Distant Victory won an allowance race against open company at 1 1/8 miles on turf, rallying from third to win by three-quarters of a length. At the time, Distant Victory was fighting a respiratory problem, though one not severe enough to push her to the sidelines, Gaines said.

The problem has subsided, Gaines said. She was encouraged when jockey Victor Espinoza worked Distant Victory at Santa Anita last month.

"Victor worked her down there and here, and he said she was much better here," Gaines said.

Distant Victory will start in the Distance Handicap with only one workout in September, a half-mile in 49.40 seconds at Santa Anita on Sept. 24. Typically, a horse returning from a five-week layoff would have two or more workouts.

There are only six entrants in the Distance Handicap, and one of them, Powerofvoodoo, remains a maiden after 20 starts. Distant Victory is the only entrant to have placed in a stakes this year, further emphasizing her status as a standout in the betting.

Barry Abrams starts Powerofvoodoo and Rushen Heat, a 5-year-old mare who will attract support.

Rushen Heat, a winner of 3 of 21 starts, has made her last four starts at Woodbine, finishing second, third, and fourth twice there from late June to early August. Rushen Heat, a front-runner, led early in Woodbine's 1,440-foot turf course stretch, but was caught in the final furlong of each race.

"It's a long stretch," Abrams said. "I didn't realize how long that stretch is. She was in front there where the finish line is here.

"I don't know if we can beat Distant Victory, but it is a mile and a quarter. We don't know if either can get a mile and a quarter."