07/15/2008 12:00AM

Distant Victory moves up as favorite off maiden win


DEL MAR, Calif. - The year started off great for trainer Carla Gaines, who had a sensational meeting at Santa Anita, including a streak in which she was winning races and stakes by the fistful. But the triumphs were replaced by tragedy at Hollywood Park, where Gaines lost her outstanding mare Nashoba's Key in a freak paddock accident. Now the scene has shifted to Del Mar, and with a change in scenery there is also the chance for a fresh start.

"Hopefully we can resurface here, and lady luck will be in our corner," Gaines said Tuesday at Del Mar.

Gaines had one runner entered on Wednesday's opening-day card, and on Thursday she will send out the promising Distant Victory, who figures to be a short-priced favorite when seeking her second straight victory in the featured seventh race.

Distant Victory was an unlucky loser sprinting on the main track in her debut, then easily defeated maidens in a 1 1/16-mile grass race. On Thursday, Distant Victory moves up to a first-level $63,000 allowance race, but returns at 1o1/16 miles on turf, and again is in a field restricted to California-breds. As usual, Victor Espinoza will be aboard.

"This filly is a very nice filly," Gaines said. "The question is - what did she beat? I don't know. But she showed a lot of presence."

Distant Victory, a daughter of Distant View, made her first start on May 11. Sent off at 9-2 in a 14-horse field, she made a late run to finish third, then was moved up to second via disqualification.

"We were going to run her in a maiden race on Gold Rush Day," Gaines said of the Cal-bred program at Hollywood Park on April 27, "but those races usually get 14 horses, and we didn't want her to get clobbered in a big field. So we decided to wait. And what happens? She's in a 14-horse field again.

"She had to steady horribly in that race," Gaines said. "Victor hadn't asked her to run, and as soon as he asked her to quicken, two horses shut her off."

Gaines brought back Distant Victory in a turf race on June 18. Sent off at 3-5, she cruised past her rivals to win by 3 3/4 lengths. "We decided to run her on turf because of her breeding and the distance," Gaines said. "The way she trained, it looked like she wanted to go two turns."

Smooth Performer is the most accomplished horse in the race, having finished second in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks after finishing second in a Cal-bred allowance.