06/06/2007 12:00AM

Gallagher strong in weekend stakes

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Paddy Gallagher's stable is in an enviable position this weekend at Hollywood Park.

In the two graded stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Gallagher starts leading contenders - Valbenny in Saturday's $175,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap on turf and Hucking Hot in Sunday's $150,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks on the synthetic track.

At one point earlier in their careers, both Hucking Hot and Valbenny seemed ideally suited to the Honeymoon, but their careers have taken divergent paths in recent months.

Valbenny has developed into the top 3-year-old turf filly in California, winning the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes on May 12 in her most recent start.

Hucking Hot has had a troubled season. After finishing a game second in the China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita in March, she was scratched before the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April after becoming spooked, unseating her rider, and running loose. She struck a rail and fell.

Hucking Hot makes her comeback this weekend. The Grade 2 Oaks, which is run over 1 1/16 miles, will be her second start on a synthetic track. She finished fourth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes here last December, closing from 10th at the eighth pole.

"She ran really well that day," Gallagher said.

Gallagher cannot pinpoint what spooked Hucking Hot at Keeneland, but said she needed time to recover from superficial injuries.

"She ducked away from the pony," he said. "She got a bit scared when she was running. She sort of hit the rail and went down. When she got back up, it was just scrapes and marks. We're lucky that they cleared up."

The probable Oaks starters include Ashley's Kitten, winner of the Railbird Stakes last month; Silver Swallow, second to Belmont Stakes entrant Rags to Riches in the Santa Anita Oaks earlier this year; as well as Courtwood, Follow the Clues, High Cholesterol, and Tough Tiz's Sis.

Valbenny is the 123-pound topweight for the Grade 2 Honeymoon, which is run over 1 1/8 miles. She has seven rivals, including Super Freaky, runner-up in the Senorita, and the rapidly improving Ainamaa, who is making her stakes debut.

Gallagher won the 2005 Honeymoon with Three Degrees, who was euthanized after suffering a leg injury in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Stakes last month.

Gallagher is hoping that Valbenny can be effective at the Honeymoon distance and justify a start in the $750,000 American Oaks over 1 1/4 miles on turf July 7.

"It would be nice to think about that," Gallagher said of the American Oaks. "But we have to get through the Honeymoon."

Four stakes set for Saturday card

Saturday's 11-race program has four stakes, led by the $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf. Defending champion Lava Man drew the outside post in a field of eight and will carry a top weight of 124 pounds.

Three stakes are being run consecutively as the eighth through 10th races - the $75,000 Redondo Beach Stakes, the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, and the Whittingham - a rare all-stakes pick three.

Dancing Edie, winner of the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar last July, makes her first start of the year in the Redondo Beach Stakes for fillies and mares on turf.

Trained by Craig Dollase, Dancing Edie has not started since finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs last November.

Siren Lure, the winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap here last July, will attempt to end a four-race losing streak in the Ack Ack, which is run over 7 1/2 furlongs.

Milady top three headed to Vanity

Nashoba's Key, Hystericalady, and Balance, the first three finishers of the Grade 2 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap last weekend, are bound for the $300,000 Vanity Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on July 7, their respective trainers said Wednesday.

Nashoba's Key preserved her unbeaten record after four races with an impressive late rally in the Milady, which was run over 1 1/16 miles. The race was her first start on a synthetic track. Owned and bred by Warren Williamson and trained Carla Gaines, she won her first three races on turf.

"It's intimidating to think of switching surfaces so early in her career," Gaines said. "She's a very, very good horse."

Gaines said the longer distance of the Vanity will suit Nashoba's Key better than the Milady distance.

A 4-year-old, Nashoba's Key won her graded stakes debut in the Milady. Gaines is predicting improvement, considering her Milady performance and the way she trains over Hollywood Park's synthetic surface.

"When you train her on that track, she loves it," she said. "We've never let go of her head in her breezes. You have to keep her at a dull roar."

Hystericalady, the 9-10 favorite in the Milady, was beaten only three-quarters of a length by Nashoba's Key. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said that he was "leaning" toward starting the 4-year-old filly in the Vanity.

"She ran a good race and came out of it very well," he said.

Balance, winner of the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March, was beaten by 5 1/4 lengths, finishing well behind Hystericalady. Balance was well-positioned in early stretch but was no factor in the stretch in her first start since the Santa Margarita.

"She needed the race," trainer David Hofmans said. "I think she'll be better off with the race. She looked sound coming out of it."