09/03/2003 12:00AM

Crowned Dancer seems back in step


DEL MAR, Calif. - Crowned Dancer has not won in more than a year and finished last of nine in a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 23, the opening day of the Del Mar meet.

With that form, he would seem misplaced in Friday's $75,000 El Cajon Stakes, a restricted race run at one mile for 3-year-olds.

But trainer Christopher Paasch has seen a spark in the colt's training in recent weeks that has not been evident for several months. The latest tip came when exercise rider Agapito Delgadillo returned from a recent workout. According to Paasch, Delgadillo was thrilled and said, "This is not the same horse I've been exercising."

Crowned Dancer won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship in July 2002 but is winless in six subsequent starts. After a promising third while making his 3-year-old debut in the San Rafael Stakes in March, Crowned Dancer finished a troubled fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April, a result that ended his Triple Crown hopes.

"He almost got dropped and when he came back he was all cuts and bruises," Paasch said. "After that race, I don't know what the deal was, but he wasn't the same. Lately, it's the first time I've seen the want in his eye again. Hopefully, he shows up."

Crowned Dancer will need a sharp effort to win the El Cajon, which is restricted to nonwinners of a stakes at a mile or over worth $50,000 to the winner this year.

The race drew seven entrants.

Gary Stevens rides Fly to the Wire, a three-length winner of an allowance race for sprinters on Aug. 9. Stevens has not ridden since suffering a collapsed lung in a spill shortly after the finish of the Aug. 16 Arlington Million.

Fly to the Wire, trained by Herbert Bacorn, is trying to win for the first time around two turns.

The strong favorite will be Excess Summer, a nine-length winner of the Real Good Deal Stakes for California-breds at seven furlongs on Aug. 11. Excess Summer finished fifth in the same division of the Oceanside Stakes as Crowned Dancer, and has yet to win beyond sprint distances.

Valiant Edge is making his first start against winners, having beaten maidens by 4 1/2 lengths in his 3-year-old debut at six furlongs on Aug. 10.

"I thought he was going to be my best 2-year-old last year, but he got hurt," trainer Eoin Harty said. "The way he broke his maiden was impressive."