06/30/2005 11:00PM

Japanese filly is good enough, but . . .


Hollywood Park's American Oaks nearly produced a Japanese winner last year when Dance in the Mood chased home Ticker Tape after having been caught flatfooted on the turn for home. On Sunday, an even better Japanese filly with the imperiously masculine name of Cesario will test her mettle in an Oaks that includes six foreign invaders.

A daughter of 1999 Japan Cup winner and Sadler's Wells stallion Special Week, Cesario is coming off a late-running victory in the 1 1/2-mile Japanese Oaks on May 22, a race in which Dance in the Mood finished fourth last year. What Dance in the Mood lacked in a finishing kick is exactly what makes Cesario so dangerous on Sunday. In the Japanese Oaks she came from 12th at the quarter pole to defeat Air Messiah by a neck.

Similar late-running tactics employed by Cesario's jockey, Minoru Yoshida, left Cesario a head short of Rhein Kraft in the one-mile Japanese 1000 Guineas on April 10. Rhein Kraft went on to defeat colts in the Group 1 NHK Mile Cup. In the American Oaks, Cesario will be reunited with Yuichi Fukunaga, who kept her much closer to the pace when she won the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Flower Cup by 2 1/2 lengths on March 19.

Fukunaga would be wise to keep Cesario well within striking distance on Sunday since Hollywood's short stretch does not give closers as much of a chance as does the 2 1/2-furlong stretch at Tokyo, where she won the Japanese Oaks. The problem is her wide draw, from where Fukunaga must work out a trip. If she is fourth or fifth entering the stretch, Cesario will be difficult to beat.

Luas Line is the one to be most wary of among the group of three Irish challengers. Much can be made of her close third in the Irish 1000 Guineas on May 22 when she had Newmarket 1000 Guineas winner Virginia Waters and subsequent Group 1 Coronation Stakes winner Maids Causeway behind, but an equally strong case might be made for her Group 3 Jersey Stakes fifth at Royal Ascot at York on June 15 over an inadequate seven furlongs.

Outrun early, she finished well as the only filly in a field of 20 colts, which was led to the line by a Proclamation, who has the makings of a top-class miler. By Danehill out of a mare by In the Wings, Luas Line should enjoy the step up in distance. She is trained by David Wachman, a young Irishman who is having a career season with the likes of group race winners Fracas and Indesatchel.

The Aidan O'Brien-trained Silk and Scarlet beat Luas Line by a half-length last August in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes, but that form has the look of ancient history. Silk and Scarlet has been well beaten five times since then, albeit in first-class company, and would do well with a minor placing.

Dermot Weld has a knack for winning on the road, but his Sadler's Wells filly Sweet Firebird looks like she is in over her head. Although she was third two back in a minor Group 3 at the Oaks distance, she only won her maiden last time out and has never run at either of Ireland's two best tracks, The Curragh or Leopardstown, suggesting that she is not quite ready for prime time.

Hallowed Dream, formerly with Clive Brittain and now with Ben Cecil, is practiced at the distance but was hardly flattered when second last time in the Italian Oaks to the unheralded German filly Gyreka. The lone British invader, Hallowed Dream should stay but is at least a notch below Cesario and Luas Line.

Italian import Silver Cup won her fourth in a row and fifth of six lifetime when landing the Group 2 Italian 1000 Guineas on May 15. Although a battler, she has been beating little in Italy and will remain Stateside with Belmont-based Patrick Biancone for her American owner, Martin Schwartz.