09/02/2005 12:00AM

Expect the real Three Valleys


DEL MAR, Calif. - Expectations were high when Grade 1-placed Three Valleys dropped into a second-condition allowance for his July 24 comeback at a mile on turf. Pounded to 3-5, he did not switch leads, was fully extended, and only inched clear in deep stretch.

The margin was three-quarters of a length. Many expected more.

"Me too," assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio said, emphasizing that the race was only a prep for the Bobby Frankel-trained . If it served its purpose, then Three Valleys can win again Sunday when he steps up in class into the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Thirteen entered the $350,000 race, and the field size reflects the change in surface. Previously run at a mile on dirt, the average size the past five years was 6.6. This year's field includes Grade 2 winner Whilly, minor stakes winner Tsigane, and 2004 Del Mar Derby runner-up Toasted. Three Valleys starts as the 119-pound topweight, and Ascanio expects an improved performance.

"He was too fresh [in his comeback], but now he's settled," Ascanio said.

Patrick Valenzuela rides Three Valleys, who last year finished third in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap. A win Sunday by Three Valleys would catapult the Juddmonte Farms-owned colt into consideration for the Breeders' Cup Mile. Three Valleys has won 3 of 9.

enters as the main threat. He won the Grade 2 American Handicap in July at Hollywood Park, then shipped out for an ambitious Grade 1 attempt in the Arlington Million. The yielding Arlington turf swallowed the speed, and Whilly surrendered after setting the pace for nearly a mile.

"You didn't want to be anywhere near the front the way that grass course was playing," trainer Doug O'Neill said, "and he might have been in a tad over his head. It was a tough, tough race."

Ten days after Whilly returned to California, he served notice he was ready for another go.

"He came out of the race in great shape," O'Neill said. Whilly has won 8 races and $882,482 from 17 starts. Felipe Martinez rides.

is racing for the first time since a narrow loss in the 2004 Del Mar Derby. He looks good and has trained super for his comeback for trainer Laura De Seroux, who said, "He's the real deal, but a year off is still a year off."