03/19/2009 11:00PM

La Sorpresa has whole new game


La Sorpresa, who failed to win at Sunland Park last year for a $10,000 maiden claiming price, has returned this season a new filly and looks like the one to beat in Sunday's $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap. The one-mile event for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares drew a field of eight and will be the 11th of 12 races on the afternoon.

After winning her maiden race at SunRay Park last May, La Sorpresa has won three races since, including her last two at Sunland in allowance company. A 4-year-old filly by Valet Man trained by Eric Mikkelson for Gallegros Del Norte Racing, she also comes off her career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 70 after winning the prep for Sunday's race in late February. Casey Lambert, aboard for each of La Sorpresa's last two victories, will again be on board the 122-pound highweight.

Etoile de Dome, second to La Sorpresa in the weights at 120 pounds, appears to be coming to hand for trainer Chris Hartman. A 4-year-old daughter of Dome, she was a stakes regular last year, taking on male opponents in the New Mexico Breeders' Derby as well as open company in the Island Fashion Stakes against her own gender. She comes off a second-place finish to La Sorpresa in the allowance prep for the Valentini. Ken Tohill will once again handle the riding chores.

Pocketfullachime woke up in her most recent start against allowance nonwinners on the year, winning off by almost three lengths with something left. Trained by J.R. Gonzalez, Pocketfullachime was making just her second start for her present connections, and the change of scenery apparently agrees with her. She retains J. M. Bourdieu in the saddle and will carry 117 pounds.

Let the Musicbegin, sixth to La Sorpresa last month in her first start of the year, has perhaps the most room to improve on Sunday. A 6-year-old mare, she was a troubled fourth in this race a year ago and went on to a very consistent campaign in the region for the remainder of the year. Trainer Claire Greenwood will give Miguel Perez a leg up at 119 pounds.