06/05/2006 11:00PM

Dancing Pioneer where he belongs

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Three years ago, trainer Ricardo Perez decided to try Dancing Pioneer on the turf. Perez said he learned that Dancing Pioneer "loves the turf," and the gelding, now 6, has turned into a useful runner on the surface.

is 0 for 7 on the main track. All three of his career victories have come on the grass.

"He always tries hard, but all his best races have been on the turf," Perez said.

Perez has Dancing Pioneer spotted nicely on the turf in Thursday's Bay Meadows feature, a $40,000 claimer at one mile. Perez said he was looking for an easier spot for Dancing Pioneer after he ran in a $62,000 optional claimer last time out, but four of the eight other runners Thursday are dropping as well.

The race is a handicapper's delight with angles aplenty, and cases can even be made for , the two runners in the field without a turf victory.

"I dropped him, but he's back in the same company," Perez said.

After finishing eighth and seventh on dirt, Dancing Pioneer has finished fourth on turf in his past two starts. Those turf starts came after a three-month break, which had as much to do with the lack of turf opportunities as anything else.

"He didn't have any big problems," Perez said. "He needed a little freshener, so I gave him time."

As a 2-year-old, Dancing Pioneer had ankle problems, and Perez sent him to the sidelines after two starts. In his second start as a 3-year-old, Dancing Pioneer, still a maiden, tried the turf for the first time in an allowance race against winners. Although he finished last, he was competitive to the stretch, and Perez said he knew he had a new option with his runner.

"I knew he could run a little bit, so I tried the turf to see if it would help him," Perez said. "Sometimes turf is more kind to horses because it is softer."

Dancing Pioneer raced twice more before a maiden race was offered on the turf, and he was able to score his first win.

He has a nice style for the turf, with enough speed to take the lead if needed but a willingness to relax. Perez enjoys his best success on the turf, winning at a rate of 22 percent, and his runners show a $3.08 return on investment over the grass, a figure that could increase dramatically should Dancing Pioneer score his fourth career victory.