08/18/2005 12:00AM

Del Mar invader all business for Gardenia


HENDERSON, Ky. - Having ventured from the breathtaking backdrop of Del Mar to the rural charm of Ellis Park, the California-bred mare Dream of Summer is far from home for a couple of good reasons.

"There was nowhere else to run," said Juan J. Garcia, the veteran trainer who has brought Dream of Summer to run Saturday in the highlight of the Ellis meet, the $150,000 Gardenia Handicap. "And the money is good."

, with Corey Nakatani named to ride, will carry high weight of 122 pounds when she starts from post 6 in the one-mile Gardenia. In all, a field of nine fillies and mares was entered in the Grade 3 Gardenia, the lone graded stakes at Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Ellis.

The Gardenia is the finale in an all-stakes pick four (races 7 through 10) built around the new Big Four Stakes Saturday, a multi-stakes concept that has been implemented with success at other CDI-owned tracks. The other stakes are the $100,000 Ellis Park Breeders' Cup Turf, the $75,000 James C. Ellis Juvenile, and the $75,000 Anna M. Fisher Debutante. Their clustering makes for the richest day in Ellis Park's 83-year history.

As for Dream of Summer, a 6-year-old gray mare bred and owned by James Weigel, her victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in April - along with her 8-for-14 career record and $850,000 bankroll - clearly make her the horse to beat, even though she is unraced since finishing fourth as the favorite in the restricted B. Thoughtful at Hollywood Park in late April. A series of sharp recent drills at Del Mar suggest an eagerness to return to action, and Garcia said the mare has settled in well at Ellis since arriving Tuesday on a charter flight from Ontario, Calif.

"She is fine here," said Garcia.

Following light training moves on each of her first two mornings here, Dream of Summer was schooled in the Ellis paddock before the fifth race Thursday.

Perhaps the strongest opposition for Dream of Summer will be , Tempus Fugit, Josh's Madelyn, Kristy Beethoven, Slewpy's Storm, and Quick Temper.

The Gardenia, first run in 1982, was run at 1 1/8 miles until Ellis reconfigured its stakes schedule this year.