07/01/2006 11:00PM

Dance in the Mood has sire's aura

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Californians never really did get their fill of Sunday Silence.

He was always the hometown boy who went off to make a splash in the big city. There were glimpses of the black colt on television, tales of great heroics, national honors. Old-timers out West still gather around the cracker barrel - okay, the latte shop - to recall how Sunday Silence, sickle hocks and all, won for the first time by 10 at Hollywood as a November 2-year-old. How he ran off like a scalded cat to win the San Felipe in his first stakes try. And how they knew Easy Goer was in real trouble after witnessing the emergence of a true star in the 1989 Santa Anita Derby.

Sunday Silence nearly ran the table. Down went the Kentucky Derby, down went the Preakness, then later in the year the Super Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which he beat Easy Goer for the third time in four matches, and with nary a touch from Chris McCarron's whip. Charlie Whittingham brought him back from Florida to a California hero's welcome.

The last time Sunday Silence was seen by a public audience, East or West, came on the afternoon of June 24, 1990, in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He was the reigning Horse of the Year at the time, but he was making only his second start of a season delayed by knee surgery the previous November.

In the Gold Cup - which will be run this Saturday for the 67th time - Sunday Silence had to deal with a stubborn Criminal Type, who was coming off consecutive wins in the Pimlico Special and the Metropolitan Mile. For a mile and a quarter, they tore at each other like tomcats, neither giving an inch. At the end, Criminal Type needed every ounce of his five-pound break in the weights, 126-121, to beat Sunday Silence by a head.

After the Hollywood Gold Cup, Sunday Silence was pointed for a special showdown with Easy Goer and Criminal Type in Chicago. But it wasn't meant to be. Easy Goer fractured a sesamoid and Sunday Silence injured a ligament, ending his career. By autumn he was on a plane bound for a stud career in Japan, thanks to a Kentucky breeding establishment that considered him a risky proposition to replicate his racing ability at stud.

Just like that, he was gone, purchased by Zenya Yoshida for $10 million to stand at Yoshida's fabled Shadai Farm, on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido. Fans of Sunday Silence, left high and dry, would not even get the chance to see his offspring in action. Rumors floated back, followed by impressive headlines: Sunday Silence was a smash at stud. But so what? For all that America saw of his sons and daughters, he might as well have been standing on the far side of the moon.

Until now. Now, with Japanese owners and trainers becoming more adventurous, American fans are discovering what the Sunday Silence fuss was all about. Too late, of course, since Sunday Silence died in 2002, but the last three summers at Hollywood Park have brought some consolation.

Coupled with Cesario's runaway win in the 2005 American Oaks,the performance last Saturday by Dance in the Mood only added to the Sunday Silence legend. A 5-year-old reincarnation of her sire, Dance in the Mood destroyed the handsome field of fillies and mares who gathered for the first running of the $750,000 CashCall Mile.

Dance in the Mood had been this way before, in 2004, when she journeyed from Japan to finish a frustrated second in the American Oaks. The Dance in the Mood of 2004, however, was a wild, undisciplined filly, her own worst enemy, beset by some of the same inner demons that could torment her sire.

The version of Dance in the Mood who returned to California for the CashCall Mile was a more focused animal, both morning and afternoon, and a tribute to the patience of trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. She is every bit the female version of her sire, complete with those elegant limbs, a perfectly set shoulder, the trickling blaze, and the eerie, white-rimmed eye that rolled back and dispensed menacing "get back" glares on the way to the winner's circle.

Sunday Silence ended up in Japan because Zenya Yoshida wanted American brilliance to mix with his collection of mares by long-winded European-style sires. Yoshida, who died in 1993, was aided and succeeded by his son Teruya Yoshida, the man responsible for making Sunday Silence the most successful stallion in the world.

It was fitting, therefore, to see Tetsuya Yoshida, the 26-year-old son of Teruya and grandson of Zenya, on hand to represent the family as Dance in the Mood dispatched Sweet Talker, Luas Line, and Shining Energy with a breathtaking ease under Victor Espinoza. Clutching a magnum of victory champagne and speaking though an interpreter, Tetsuya Yoshida spread the credit to the jockey, the trainer, and the staff back at Shadai Farm.

"After she ran here two years ago, she came back to the farm," Yoshida said. "She needed time to grow up, become more mature, and more calm in her attitude. She is much different now."

Reminded that his father and grandfather had stood in the very same Hollywood Park winner's circle - most notably with such stakes-winning fillies as Izanami, Miss Tokyo, and Ski Goggle, who also took the 1983 Acorn - Tetsuya Yoshida reacted with a self-effacing smile.

"I remember Ski Goggle, yes," he said, then lowered his hand to somewhere around his knee. "But I was only this tall."

The good ones, you never forget.