03/11/2008 11:00PM

Filly delays leap into big time

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It would have been no surprise had the connections of Dance Gal Dance opted to run her in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. After all, Dance Gal Dance has won all three of her career starts, including an overnight stakes restricted to New York-breds.

But given it is only March, and there will be ample time for graded stakes opportunities later on, Dance Gal Dance was entered in Friday's $65,000 Love Is Eternal, a six-furlong overnight stakes restricted to New York-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Despite its restricted status, however, the Love Is Eternal drew a salty group of statebred fillies, including I Promise, Meriwether Jessica, Expect the End, and Jet Setting.

Dance Gal Dance beat both Expect the End and Meriwether Jessica in the Dewars Rocks here on Feb. 6. Prior to that, Dance Gal Dance won her career debut last November over the main track before romping to a 5o3/4-length victory over a slow-starting Jet Setting in a Dec. 26 allowance race.

"We thought no matter how she ran her first race she would improve, and she has continued to do that," said Tim Ritvo, who trains Dance Gal Dance for Rosalie DiRico.

"We thought she'd run really good [first out]. It wasn't the biggest thing in the world to pound her to win. We thought there was a lot of room to move forward. When she won, we knew she was talented."

Ritvo said that Dance Gal Dance has continued to train forwardly between races, and she shows two solid five-furlong breezes over the Belmont training track leading to this. Dance Gal Dance will break from post 2 under Rajiv Maragh.

I Promise returned from a five-month layoff and won a first-level New York-bred allowance race by four lengths on Jan. 16. She came back three weeks later against Dance Gal Dance and ran a dull fourth, beaten 12 1/2 lengths.

"I just misjudged the effect the race off the layoff had on her and she wasn't the same horse," trainer Gary Contessa said. "But she's training very well now. She's had the right amount of time - four or five weeks - to get herself back together."

Jet Setting was compromised by a slow start in the Jan. 16 allowance race and then came back with a sharp 3 3/4-length score on Feb. 21. She breaks from the outside post in this compact field.

Earlier on the card, there is a stakes-caliber allowance race, featuring Aqueduct Handicap winner Angliana, Native Dancer Stakes winner Throng, Judiths Wild Rush, and the talented but fragile Mayan King.