01/31/2005 12:00AM

Lewis feeling like a million after win

Valentine Dancer defends her title in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Craig Lewis was at his lowest on the weekend of Jan. 22 and 23.

He was in Arcadia Methodist Hospital, across the street from Santa Anita, with a bulging disc in his back that briefly left him paralyzed.

Lewis was released after five days, but his doctors forbade him from traveling to Gulfstream Park Saturday to watch Valentine Dancer attempt to defend her title in the $500,000 .

So, Lewis stayed in California. By Saturday afternoon, he was feeling brilliant. Valentine Dancer had successfully defended her title in the Filly and Mare Turf, holding off a fast-closing Marwood by a neck. In the end, Lewis said he did not mind watching the race on television.

"What a difference a week makes," Lewis said Sunday. "I can walk, and the filly wins. I found that victory was an equal pain reliever to morphine."

Lewis was still moving a little gingerly Sunday. He had a doctor's appointment Tuesday and said that surgery may be needed, though he is hoping to avoid that.

"Hopefully, it will all work out," he said. "That was the worst pain I've ever had, and I've had a lot of injuries. I've broken bones and had two root canals."

Valentine Dancer's win was a source of pride for Lewis and owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood. The filly made only two starts after the Filly and Mare Turf last year before going to the sidelines. Saturday's Filly and Mare Turf was only the second start of her comeback, which had been disrupted by recent wet weather.

"She was really doing well," Lewis said. "We missed a lot of time. I think it's a tremendous feat to come back and win the race."

Valentine Dancer is a candidate for the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf March 20.

Lewis credited several members of his staff - groom Jose de la Rosa, exercise rider Manuel Becerra, and foreman Apple Gonzalez - for getting Valentine Dancer ready. "I can't take the credit," he said. "The credit goes to the guys in the trenches."

Stretch run took Mitchell for a ride

When Star Over the Bay turned for home with the lead in Saturday's $500,000 , trainer Mike Mitchell tempered his enthusiasm.

"I thought he was beat," Mitchell said. "Because of the rain, I thought the course was too soft."

Star Over the Bay had led by as much as 1 1/2 lengths on the backstretch and was stubbornly fighting off a determined rally from A to the Z in early stretch. As Star Over the Bay reached the eighth pole with the lead, Mitchell's confidence grew. Eventually, Star Over the Bay pulled away to win by a half-length, scoring the richest win of his career.

"He likes it firm," Mitchell said. "It was a gutty, gutty race. He stayed right on the rail where the ground is the best."

The victory marked Star Over the Bay's fourth stakes win since he was claimed for $80,000 last May. He will go for his fifth in the San Luis Rey Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf March 27, Mitchell said.

If he wins, there will be another huge winner's circle celebration from his owners - the G Racing partners, Carl Van Burger, and Landon Vaughn. More than 100 of their friends and family were in Saturday's winner's circle.

"Everybody brought everybody," Mitchell said.

Mandella prepares his Strub duo

Rock Hard Ten, who will go favored in Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes, breezed six furlongs in 1:13.40 on Sunday.

The winner of the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, Rock Hard Ten will be part of a formidable team for trainer Richard Mandella along with Minister Eric, the winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 15.

The Malibu and San Fernando are the first two events in the three-race Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds of 2005, which ends with Saturday's race over 1 1/8 miles.

If Rock Hard Ten or Minister Eric were to win the Strub, it would be the first time a trainer had swept the series since Ross Fenstermaker did it in 1986 with Precisionist.

"I don't want to talk about it," Mandella said of the sweep, attempting to avoid a jinx.

Minister Eric worked three furlongs in 36.20 seconds Monday. The work was supposed to be a half-mile, but Minister Eric was pulled up early to avoid a horse that had broken down in front of him.

Minister Eric's behavior the last few days has convinced Mandella that a start in the Strub Stakes is needed. "He's tearing down the barn," he said. "I just didn't want to over-race him."

Rock Hard Ten was deliberately kept out of the San Fernando.

"I'm looking at a big year, and I didn't want to get in a big hurry," Mandella said.

The Malibu was Rock Hard Ten's first stakes win since the Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes at Hollywood Park in July and first start since a sixth in the Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park in August. The Malibu was Rock Hard Ten's first start for Mandella, who took over training of the horse from Jason Orman.

The Strub Stakes is a key prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 5. Other Strub candidates include Grand Reward, Love of Money, Skipaslew, and With Distinction.

Castledale, the winner of the 2004 Santa Anita Derby, may start in the Strub or Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds and up. The San Antonio is led by Truly a Judge, the winner of the Native Diver and San Gabriel handicaps in his last two starts.

Other probable starters are Congrats, Epicentre, Formal Attire, Lundy's Liability, Outta Here, Star Cross, and Total Impact.

Saturday's program also features the $100,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles. Giacomo, second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity in December, is expected to face Cadillac Cruiser, Chekhov, Southern Africa, and Texcess.

Green Team euthanized after breakdown

Green Team, a three-time stakes winner and one of the top California-bred sprinters in the last two years, was euthanized after suffering sesamoid injuries during Saturday's .

Trainer Jeff Bonde, who co-owned Green Team with Ferro Family Trust, said the injury left "no stability in the leg."

Green Team won 10 of 39 starts and $620,827. His stakes wins included the California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in 2003 and two stakes last year - the California Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows and the Oakland Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last year.

Green Team was leading the Sunshine Millions Sprint when he suffered the injury. Jockey Roberto Gonzalez was able to pull up Green Team without causing major problems to the rest of the field.

Track to honor Delahoussaye in ceremony

Two years after retiring with minimal attention, Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye will be honored in a winner's circle celebration at Santa Anita on March 5. The ceremony will coincide with the day of the Santa Anita Handicap, a race Delahoussaye won in 1996 aboard Mr Purple.

Delahoussaye, 53, won 6,384 races. He suffered head and neck injuries in a spill at Del Mar in Aug. 2002 and announced his retirement in early 2003. For the last two years, he has worked as a bloodstock agent, spending considerable time at Southern California tracks and frequently attending Kentucky sales.

Delahoussaye said he agreed to participate in a retirement ceremony at the request of Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, an executive at Santa Anita.