08/27/2004 12:00AM

Longer better for this pair


DEL MAR, Calif. - There's always a trade-off. In the case of both Dimitrova and Moscow Burning, the considerations were a race restricted to females, or a race more suited to their long-distance preferences. Distance won out.

Both 4-year-old fillies will take on males in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Handicap, and though neither will be favored, their presence adds an element of intrigue to the 1 3/8-mile grass race.

was second and Dimitrova fourth in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee Handicap at 1 1/8 miles five weeks ago. Both fillies prefer more distance, so their trainers decided to forgo a chance to run in the Sept. 4 Palomar Handicap, which is restricted to fillies and mares but is only at 1 1/16 miles.

"The trip is perfect for her," Jim Cassidy, the trainer of Moscow Burning, said Friday morning at his Del Mar barn. "If she runs her race, she's going to be tough."

Moscow Burning won at this 11-furlong distance in May, when she shipped to Belmont Park and captured the Sheepshead Bay Handicap.

has been a disappointment so far this year, having finished fourth in all three of her races. This, though, will be her first time beyond 1 1/8 miles this year. Last year, Dimitrova won two significant races going 1 1/4 miles, the American Oaks at Hollywood Park, and the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont.

"She's been running at shorter distances, but her pedigree indicates she'd like to go further," said Neil Drysdale, who trains Dimitrova. "We were looking for distance. We want to confirm that she's a mile-and-a-half filly."

Drysdale also will send out , who won the 11-furlong Escondido Handicap on Aug. 4. He has won 4 times in 5 starts at Del Mar.

Sarafan carries top weight of 121 pounds. The fillies get a five-pound weight break, so Dimitrova's 114 assignment is actually 119 on scale, making her the second highweight.

The horse to catch, and very likely the horse to beat, is , who led from start to finish in Hollywood Park's Sunset Handicap on July 18. Star Over the Bay is coupled with Murano; both are trained by Mike Mitchell. In the Sunset, Star Over the Bay just lasted over Continuously, who came up a nose short as the 4-5 favorite.