07/13/2007 12:00AM

Indian Vale seems back at full strength

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Indian Vale enters Sunday's Grade 2 Delaware Handicap off a comfortable win in last month's Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, also a Grade 2 stakes.

In 2005, the year she first made the races as a 3-year-old, Indian Vale was virtually unbeatable, winning 5 of 6 starts by a combined 41 lengths, and running plenty fast enough to become a Grade 1 winner. But she never got the chance. Having capped off her 2005 season with a blowout victory in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs, Indian Vale did almost nothing last year. She made but one start, finishing a distant fifth in the Shuvee in May and then disappearing for the rest of the season, sidelined with a wrenched ankle.

But Indian Vale is back - and in a big way. With two good wins under her belt this year, the most recent in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis last month at Churchill Downs, Indian Vale has begun to look like that dominant filly she had become in 2005, and though a win in Sunday's Grade 2 Delaware Handicap won't tack a Grade 1 on her resume, the Delaware Cap has another sort of allure - a $1 million purse.

"The mare is training as well as she ever has," said Todd Pletcher, who had Indian Vale based at Churchill Downs from late April to mid-June, but has watched firsthand as she turned in a pair of bullet works since moving back into Pletcher's Belmont string.

To win the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Cap, Indian Vale must beat seven rivals, only one of whom - all things being equal - is in her class. That is Asi Siempre, a onetime turf mare whose style sits on the opposite pole from Indian Vale's. Indian Vale sets out at a punishing gallop and can sustain it over a long distance; her wins either have come from on the pace or a pressing position.

Asi Siempre, on the other hand, runs her dirt races like, well, a turf horse, waiting near the back of the pack before unleashing one big move. She's pretty good at it, though. Indian Vale held her off - and did so fairly comfortably - last out in the Fleur de Lis, but Asi Siempre has crossed the wire first or second in all three of her dirt starts, the first of which was the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff, when she finished second but was disqualified to fourth. A few weeks before that race, Asi Siempre had won the Grade 1 Spinster over Keeneland's Polytrack, but the Polytrack race was only a stepping-stone on the way to a career switch to dirt.

"We started to realize at Saratoga about a year ago that she was really good on dirt," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "She was breezing, working, doing really good. I said to [owner] Martin Schwartz, 'Lets go to the Polytrack first, but I think she's going to be a great horse on the dirt.' "

Asi Siempre gets a jockey change Sunday, from Garrett Gomez to Edgar Prado. John Velazquez gets his usual seat aboard Indian Vale, and Pletcher said it would be up to Velazquez to determine how best to ration Indian Vale's speed.

Indian Vale does not figure to make an easy lead. Peak Maria's Way, who's drawn on the rail, is likely to show some pace, and even more speed could come from Ice Cool Kitty, who never has been beyond a mile. And while Indian Vale has never raced farther than 1 1/8 miles, Pletcher thinks she was made for the Delaware Cap's distance.

"I feel like a mile and a quarter is perfect for her," Pletcher said.

Pletcher in fact has another horse for the race, Unbridled Belle, who was a closing second behind Peak Maria's Way in the local Delaware Handicap prep, and who also should handle 1 1/4 miles.

Still, a win by anyone besides Asi Siempre or Indian Vale would mean that the two favorites failed to run to form on Sunday.