07/01/2011 12:49PM

Hollywood's Kerlan an important test for Dancing in Silks

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Justin N. Lane
Dancing in Silks (6), winning the 2009 BC Sprint, enters Sunday's Kerlan on a seven-race losing streak.

Two years ago this summer, Dancing in Silks was returning from a layoff, in the midst of a losing streak, and in search of his first stakes win.

Sunday, when the 6-year-old gelding starts in the $77,000 Robert Kerlan Memorial Handicap on turf at Hollywood Park, Dancing in Silks is once again returning from a brief layoff and stuck in a losing streak and has even more to prove.

Dancing in Silks needs a win in the Kerlan to show he has returned to his late 2009 form when he reeled off four consecutive wins, culminating with a nose victory in a 25-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. That season, he won the Pirate’s Bounty Stakes at Del Mar and the California Cup Sprint.

Dancing in Silks, who is by Black Minnaloushe, is winless in seven starts since the BC Sprint, leaving the possibility that he peaked as a 4-year-old. Trainer Kathy Walsh, for one, disagrees, citing the way Dancing in Silks has trained in recent weeks.

“He’s happy,” she said Friday. “He couldn’t be doing better.

Walsh has trained Dancing in Silks for owner Ken Kinakin since the beginning of the year, after Kinakin replaced trainer Carla Gaines. For Gaines, Dancing in Silks won 7 of 18 races.

The Kerlan, run over six furlongs on turf, will be Dancing in Silks’s third start for Walsh, preceded by a solid third in the Sensational Star Handicap on turf at Santa Anita on Feb. 27 and a fourth in the Cool Frenchy Stakes on the synthetic main track at Hollywood Park on May 7.

“I think he’ll run better on turf,” Walsh said.

Walsh acknowledges that Dancing in Silks needs to run well in the Kerlan, which has drawn a strong field, including California Flag, the winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

“When they get some age on them, you wonder if they missed a step,” she said. “He hasn’t acted like it in the mornings.”

A winner of $1,492,715, Dancing in Silks was the California-bred co-Horse of the Year in 2009 with California Flag. In five starts in 2010, Dancing in Silks’s best finish was a third in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap in January.

In the Sensational Star Handicap on the hillside turf course, Dancing in Silks was beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Quick Enough, who starts in the Kerlan. The runner-up in that field, Amazombie, was entered for Saturday’s Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap, further proof that the race drew a strong field.

“He sure ran well that day on the grass,” Walsh said. “He’s had some foot issues, but they aren’t bothering him now. “If I could have kept him on a roll after that race down the hill, it would have been better. I couldn’t find anything for him.”

Dancing in Silks made his next start in the Cool Frenchy Stakes and was beaten 5 1/2 lengths by M One Rifle, a California-bred who was also entered for the Triple Bend. Walsh dismissed that race and wondered if Dancing in Silks did not handle Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track synthetic surface. Dancing in Silks has trained on Santa Anita’s conventional dirt surface for his return in the Kerlan.

The race may not carry a hefty purse, but for Dancing in Silks it is a very important race.