06/28/2004 11:00PM

Japanese filly a bit jittery


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The pieces have fallen into place for the Grade 1 American Oaks, and it was news on Tuesday when the favorite for the $750,000 turf race went to the track without falling to pieces.

One day made all the difference for Dance in the Mood, the temperamental top-class Japanese filly who was a nervous wreck while training Monday at Hollywood Park. She remained somewhat edgy Tuesday, but her behavior was calm by comparison. The $750,000 question for the American Oaks is if Dance in the Mood - whose markings are strikingly similar to her sire Sunday Silence - is good enough to win a 1 1/4-mile turf race Saturday that drew an international cast of 14 fillies.

The American Oaks is difficult to analyze - the running lines of the probable starters include nine courses in six countries. The race is so wide open that Hollywood line maker Russell Hudak expects to open Dance in the Mood as a tepid high-priced favorite at 9-2. She won her first four starts, including a Group 1, and may have had an excuse for her disappointing fourth-place finish as the odds-on favorite May 23 in the Group 1 Japanese Oaks. A different language is spoken in Japan, but the alibis sound the same as English.

In the case of Dance in the Mood, the excuse may be valid. Nobutaka Tada, the racing manager to trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, said the "good" footing and 1 1/2-mile distance contributed to her fourth-place finish. "That day, the ground was soft and maybe the distance was too long," Tada said. "A mile to a mile and a quarter should be the best distance for her."

Tada said that Dance in the Mood is versatile. She will need to be Saturday, because expected pacesetter Miss Vegas was declared out of the race by Bobby Frankel. Winner of the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes at one mile in her U.S. debut, Frankel said Tuesday that Miss Vegas would run instead in the $100,000 Flawlessly on Saturday at one mile on turf. The absence of Miss Vegas gives the Bob Baffert-trained Western Hemisphere a potential pace advantage - she is the only committed front-runner.

The defection of Miss Vegas and the French filly Kataluna, who did not ship Monday, opens the door for two locally based fillies. Honeymoon third-place finisher Sagitta Ra and Honeymoon fifth-place finisher Amorama have been issued invitations. Sagitta Ra is owned and trained by Frankel, who also starts New Zealand-bred Eternal Melody. Amorama is trained by Julio Canani.

Eternal Melody finished a moderate third in the Grade 3 Mint Julep in her U.S. debut on May 29 at Churchill Downs. Frankel said "she ran well, it was against older fillies, and I don't think the fillies she'll be running against [Saturday] are going to be any tougher."

In theory, Eternal Melody is dropping in class. She is a Southern Hemisphere 4-year-old, eligible to the American Oaks for 3-year-olds after being foaled late in the year. Eternal Melody, Boulevardofdreams, and French Lady are 4-year-olds in from New Zealand.

Although Eternal Melody's odds may be lower, Australian experts suggest Eternal Melody was at least five lengths inferior to Boulevardofdreams, who worked seven furlongs on turf Tuesday in 1:32.20 breezing. A Group 3 winner and bad-luck third in a Group 1, Boulevardofdreams drops from a race against older males. A light-framed filly, Boulevardofdreams arrived June 20 at Hollywood Park, and was a picture of composure Tuesday morning. French Lady finished in front of Boulevardofdreams in April, but the result would have been reversed if Boulevardofdreams had a clean run.

Trainer Dermot Weld won the American Oaks last year with Dimitrova, and will try for his second consecutive win with Misty Heights. Although her form pales compared to Dimitrova, this year's Oaks field is not as strong. Misty Heights beat older males in her most recent start June 6 in a listed stakes in Ireland, and arrived in California on Monday. She will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who surrendered the mount on Honeymoon upset winner Lovely Rafaela to ride Misty Heights.

The final piece of the American Oaks field is Amorama, whose closing style has allowed her to secure two thirds and a second in four U.S. starts for Julio Canani. The trainer said "she's doing better than ever; she's putting weight on and she's getting wider."

Amorama has yet to show she is Grade 1 caliber, but Canani said "the distance is what's going to help her." Canani named Kerwin John to ride the filly, who worked a half-mile Tuesday in 48.40 seconds.

Ticker Tape worked a half-mile Tuesday on turf in 50.80. Other expected starters include Hollywood Story, Mambo Slew, Steel Princess, and Western Ransom.

Ghostzapper won't go in Triple Bend

First post on Saturday is noon Pacific, and the American Oaks is not the only Grade 1. In the $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap, favoritism is wide open. Ghostzapper will not make the trip from Belmont, according to Frankel, which means the top six high weights on the original list of invitations will not run. The field for the seven-furlong Triple Bend may include Marino Marini, Pie N Burger, Publication, Reba's Gold, Hasty Kris, Kela, Taste of Paradise, Olmodavor, Nose the Trade, and Grey Memo.

It may not be the world's best group, but as racing secretary Martin Panza said, "we'll get 11 or 12 horses, and it will be a good betting race."

Ghostzapper would have been the overwhelming favorite if Frankel had decided to ship to California.