07/02/2007 11:00PM

Japanese filly stuck in long drought

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Beaten in separate races by Japan's leading male and female turf milers in recent months, Kiss to Heaven will be tried in an equally difficult spot when she makes her United States debut in Friday's $750,000 CashCall Mile at Hollywood Park.

But Japanese trainer Hirofumi Toda insists he is not wasting his time in making his first trip to the U.S. to start Kiss to Heaven. A winner of 3 of 14 starts and $1,626,209, Kiss to Heaven won the one-mile Japanese 1000 Guineas in 2006, the final race of a three-race winning streak.

Kiss to Heaven has lost her last eight starts, but was beaten only three lengths against males in the $1.5 million Yasuda Kinen at a mile on turf at Tokyo Racecourse on Juneo3, an important late-spring race in Japan.

"She has been quite unlucky, especially in her last race," Toda said through an interpreter on the Hollywood Park backstretch on Tuesday. "She ran against the boys in a field and kind of got bumped early on."

On May 13, Kiss to Heaven finished behind CashCall Mile entrant Koiuta in the $1.4 million Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse.

Kiss to Heaven is one of three Japanese imports for the turf race, which has drawn a field of 10, including Wait a While, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2006, and the Gradeo1 winners Dancing Edie and Price Tag.

Toda said he has been "aiming for this race" from early in the year. In a final tune-up, Kiss to Heaven worked a half-mile in 53.80 seconds on Tuesday, with a final furlong in "11 and change," Toda said.

Another Japanese filly, Dia de la Novia, worked a half-mile on Tuesday in 53.80. The foreign horses for Friday's CashCall Mile and Saturday's American Oaks have not shown American-style quick workouts since arriving here.

Unlike the other Japanese fillies, Dia de la Novia and Koiuta, Kiss to Heaven will be ridden by a California-based jockey, Victor Espinoza. Kiss to Heaven's regular rider is suspended, which resulted in Espinoza gaining the mount, Toda said. Toda said he thinks that a local rider could give Kiss to Heaven an advantage.

"I feel very fortunate that Espinoza was available," he said.

Gaines high on Nashoba's Key

Nashoba's Key risks her four-race unbeaten streak in Saturday's $300,000 Vanity Handicap, and her normally reserved trainer, Carla Gaines, is supremely confident that the streak will continue.

"I don't think we've seen the best of her yet," Gaines said. "Eventually, they all get beat, but this is fun. She's never been better."

The Grade 1 Vanity is Nashoba's Key's first start at the highest level, and her first start at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic track.

Gaines allows that Nashoba's Key could "bounce" or regress in the Vanity, which will be her third start of the meeting. Nashoba's Key, 4, won the Fran's Valentine Stakes at 1o1/16 miles on turf against California-breds on April 29, and won her first graded stakes, the Grade 2 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, in her first start on a synthetic track on June 3.

In the Milady, she rallied from fourth in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length over Hystericalady, who returns in the Vanity.

"She's just learning," Gaines said of Nashoba's Key. "She ran greenly in the Milady. Maybe I'm too high on her, but I'm pretty high on her."

The Vanity, part of the undercard of the American Oaks, will have a very small field, featuring a rematch of the first four from the Milady - Nashoba's Key, Hystericalady, Balance, and Ballado's Thunder.

Balance, a five-time stakes winner, is the 122-pound topweight. She worked a half-mile in 47.60 seconds on Tuesday. Balance was beaten 5o1/4 lengths by Nashoba's Key in the Milady in her first start since winning the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap in March.

Desire to Excel gets a perfect ride

Desire to Excel pulled a minor upset in Monday's $78,450 Honest Lady Handicap, holding off a late run from 4-5 favorite Glorified.

For winning trainer Marty Jones, credit for the victory went to Espinoza, who kept Desire to Excel in a stalking position behind the pacesetters for the first half-mile before circling the leaders on the turn.

"Victor rode her perfectly," Jones said. "You can't take too much of a hold. She resents it. He was able to put her in a good spot."

Desire to Excel ($13.20) ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16, finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Glorified, who rallied from fifth in the field of six 3-year-old fillies. Coco Belle, who was part of an early speed duel, finished third.

Desire to Excel was making her second start in California, having finished third in the Manhattan Beach Stakes on June 2. Last year, while trained by Kelly Breen, she won the Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park.

Bay Meadows purse redistributed

Part of the purse of a maiden claimer run at Bay Meadows in February has been redistributed after postrace tests revealed that third-place finisher Theory tested in excess of the permitted level of total carbon dioxide, according to a ruling released on Sunday by Hollywood Park stewards.

Theory, who finished third in the sixth race at Bay Meadows on Feb.o28, had a postrace test of 37.8 millimoles per liter of blood, in excess of the permitted level of 37 millimoles.

Theory was disqualified from purse money, and the horse's owner, Black Diamond Racing, was ordered to forfeit the $1,500 purse. The purse was redistributed to the original fourth- through sixth-place finishers - Army Actress, Ms. Vermont, and Dream Destination.

The case was heard by Southern California stewards because the trainer of Theory, Gary Stute, is based in Southern California.

* Trainer Frank Monteleone has been fined $750 after one of his starters in May tested in excess of the permitted level of phenylbutazone.