03/19/2007 11:00PM

Distaff's status lures three from California


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The plowing of snow and ice from the barn area and the fact there are still two weeks of racing remaining on Aqueduct's inner track may belie the fact that spring was to officially commence at 8:07 Tuesday night. But the expected arrival of three shippers from California for Saturday's $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap is indeed a sign of the change in seasons.

Victorina, from the Northern California barn of Greg Gilchrist, and Southern California shippers Hello Lucky and Maryfield are all due in by midweek for the first Grade 2 event of the year in New York. The Grade 2 status of the race is a major reason why these three stakes winners are headed East.

Victorina and Hello Lucky are Grade 3 winners, while Maryfield is seeking her first graded stakes triumph. Hello Lucky, partly owned by her trainer, Eric Guillot, is coming off a 33-1 upset in the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 24.

"If she wins a Grade 2 she'll be worth another $150,000,'' Guillot said Monday from Southern California. "I think I'll miss the Florida and Louisiana horses and three-quarters is her distance.''

As a 2-year-old, Hello Lucky won her first two starts at Calder before being sold to interests in Southern California, where she finished third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and third in the Grade 3 Sorrento. Her victory in the Las Flores ended a seven-race losing streak dating back to August 2005.

Michael Baze will come in from Santa Anita to ride. His cousin, Russell, Thoroughbred racing's all-time winningest rider, is coming in to ride Victorina for Gilchrist. A 4-year-old daughter of Delaware Township, Victorina has 7 wins from 12 starts, including a victory in the Grade 3 Azalea Breeders' Cup last July at Calder. Most recently, she won the Princess of Palms Handicap at Turf Paradise.

"She's always been a real hard tryer,'' Gilchrist said from Northern California. "It is a Grade 2, and if she can win it or even place in it, it will help her value on the other end. The sprints are not really that easy to find.''

Three of Victorina's losses have come when Gilchrist has tried to stretch her out.

"She just can't seem to have the same punch going the routes as she does sprinting,'' Gilchrist said.

Doug O'Neill will ship in Maryfield for the Distaff. Maryfield, a 6-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality, is winless in three starts this year. She did beat a quality field in the $238,000 Very Subtle Handicap, the opening race of the Breeders' Cup Day card at Churchill Downs last Nov. 4.

Among the locals expected for the Distaff are Magnolia Jackson, the assigned 120-pound highweight; Oprah Winney, winner of the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel; Candy Box; Livermore Valley; and May Day Vow.

Inner track benefits from break

Management's decision to cancel Sunday's card was met with some raised eyebrows, but John Passero, the New York Racing Association's director of racing surfaces, maintains it was the right thing to do. A tour of the inner track on Monday morning indicated Passero was probably right.

Passero said that while the main track looked usable on Sunday, there were still plenty of ice chunks embedded in the dirt that would have been harmful to the horses.

"It looked good, but it wouldn't have been good for horses,'' Passero said after training hours on Monday. "Now it's as smooth as a baby's [bottom].

Passero said his maintenance crew worked on the track for 30 hours over the weekend and he labeled it "perfect'' on Monday morning. Passero's crew moved much of the ice to the outer rail of the inner track, and cones, known as dogs, were put up on the outside so that horses jogging the wrong way would not go over the ice.

Passero did not allow training on the inner track for three consecutive days beginning last Friday. The inner track reopened Monday morning, but only six horses were timed for workouts. Trainer Joe Imperio worked three horses over the inner track and said his horses came back fine.

"The track was in good shape,'' Imperio said. "A couple of little [ice] balls in it, but it was fine.''

Rusty Myers, assistant to trainer Rick Violette, said he galloped all 44 of his horses over the inner track, including Summer Doldrums, the beaten favorite in the Gotham. It was the first gallop for Summer Doldrums since he finished third in the Gotham on March 10.

"The track was in good shape; it wasn't in great shape,'' Myers said.

Indian Vale alters target to Next Move

While many of the races from last week's three canceled cards were brought back for this week, one that was not was the $65,000 Lucky Lucky Lucky Stakes. That means Indian Vale will go into the Next Move Handicap here on March 31 without a prep race.

"It would have been great if it would have happened, but with the weather the way it was we have to re-adjust,'' said Seth Benzel, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "She'll stay here and we'll train her right up to the [Next Move].''

Indian Vale, a multiple graded stakes winner in 2005, has not run since finishing last of five in the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap last May at Belmont. She came out of that race with a right hind ankle injury.

Two of Indian Vale's would-be rivals in the Lucky Lucky Lucky - Game Card and Daytime Promise - found a softer allowance spot on Thursday at Aqueduct.