01/31/2006 1:00AM

Folklore to skip Las Virgenes

Two-time Sunshine Millions Filly-Mare Turf winner Valentine Dancer has been retired.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Folklore's first shot at redemption has been postponed by a month. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday that the 2005 champion 2-year-old filly would skip the Grade 1 Las Virgenes on Feb. 11 and aim instead for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on March 12.

Folklore finished a disappointing third behind stablemate Dance Daily in the seven-furlong Grade 2 on Jan. 16. So when the 3-year-old fillies stretch out to one mile in the Las Virgenes, Lukas and owners Bob and Beverly Lewis will have just one starter.

"There are so many opportunities for 3-year-old fillies, I don't see any upside to running these two against each other," Lukas said. "I'll run Dance Daily in the [Las Virgenes], and go right to the Oaks with Folklore. I'm going to keep them separate for now. "

Folklore has not breezed since the Santa Ynez more than two weeks ago. "I backed off because I've got 55 days," Lukas said.

But Folklore is likely to breeze this weekend, Lukas added.

The Las Virgenes is the first Grade 1 of the year for 3-year-old fillies. The field is expected to include Balance, Dance Daily, Diplomat Lady, Itty Bitty Pretty, Tallulah Lula, and Wild Fit.

Valentine Dancer heads off to the breeding shed

on Saturday, and trainer Craig Lewis said Tuesday she has been retired. Valentine Dancer won 8 of 29 starts and $1,144,126 for owner-breeders Al and Sandee Kirkwood.

"They don't come along every day like her; she was pretty good to us," Lewis said.

Sired by In Excess and out of the Mr. Prospector mare Gilded Dancer, Valentine Dancer won five stakes and was at her best at a mile on turf. Arguably the best race of her career was in the Harold C. Ramser Handicap in fall 2003, when she ran a mile on turf in 1:32.87 and won by three lengths.

"We're fortunate she stayed around as long as she did; it's pretty remarkable to keep a horse like her around so long," Lewis said.

Valentine Dancer finished third in her debut as a 2-year-old in June 2002, returned in January 2003, and held top form until the fall of 2005. She retires as the seventh all-time Cal-bred money winner. Valentine Dancer's full brother Carano is nearing a comeback after suffering a shin injury last fall.

Western Hemisphere races out of retirement

Western Hemisphere's retirement plans are on hold after her runner-up finish Saturday in the $300,000 . Trainer Bob Baffert has been given the green light by Golden Eagle Farm to continue a winter-spring campaign with Western Hemisphere.

"They're not retiring her; we'll shoot her for a long one," Baffert said.

A 5-year-old mare by General Meeting (and a full sister to General Challenge), Western Hemisphere has won 4 of 13 starts and $417,575. Baffert might stretch her out in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 11, or the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on March 11.

Surf Cat heals and trains

The Grade 2 Strub Stakes on Saturday will mark the return of Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, but the field will not include the best 3-year-old colt to race last year in Southern California.

That colt is Surf Cat, who scored a romping victory in the Grade 2 in the summer at Hollywood Park and was fast enough to earn Beyer Speed Figures of 104 or higher in each of his last five starts of the year. Surf Cat then sustained an injury in his stall, which halted his winter campaign before it got going.

"He jumped on his quarter and it took five weeks to heal," trainer Bruce Headley said.

The injury knocked him completely out of the three-race Strub Series. The timing was unfortunate, because after a creditable sixth against older horses in the Grade 1 at Del Mar, Surf Cat had returned to peak form with a convincing three-other-than allowance victory Oct. 10 at Santa Anita. This winter, all that Surf Cat has done is heal and train. He worked a crisp six furlongs Monday in 1:12.80.

"He's coming back great, and I play a slow game anyway," Headley said. "That's what I did last summer at Hollywood."

Headley will point Surf Cat toward the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap, a seven-furlong race against older foes on Feb. 18. From 8 starts, Surf Cat has 4 wins, 3 seconds, and earnings of $322,420.

With Distinction adds pace to San Antonio

There will be no easy lead for Badge of Silver when he returns to dirt Sunday in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap. A wire-to-wire winner of the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap on turf Jan. 1, Badge of Silver will be the 119-pound starting highweight in the San Antonio. But the tempo of the 1 1/8-mile race figures to increase by the addition to the lineup of a stretch-out sprinter, With Distinction.

Winner of the Grade 3 at 5 1/2 furlongs Jan. 2, With Distinction will try to carry his speed farther on Sunday.

"I think he'll go long," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "The pedigree is there - by Storm Cat, out of an Alydar mare."

In his last start, on Jan. 21, With Distinction broke slowly from the rail in the Grade 2 and finished last. A six-time winner from 22 starts, With Distinction has raced two turns on dirt five times, with his best finish a runner-up effort last January in a two-other-than allowance.

With 120-pound San Antonio highweight Super Frolic opting to run at Gulfstream Park Saturday in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, the field for the San Antonio is expected to include Badge of Silver, 119; Buckland Manor, 116; With Distinction, 115; Bully Hayes, Calkins Road, Spellbinder and Turnbolt, 114; Melengao, 113; and Mambo Train, 112.