06/30/2004 11:00PM

Mambo Slew ready for big dance


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After Mambo Slew won in an international field of fillies in last fall's Miesque Stakes, trainer Patrick Biancone immediately began planning for Saturday's American Oaks. Like the Miesque, the American Oaks is run at Hollywood Park, on turf, on the firm ground Mambo Slew prefers.

In recent months, has traveled across the country, winning stakes on both coasts, at Santa Anita and Belmont Park. "She beat everybody in the East. She beat everybody in the West," Biancone said Thursday. "Now, the problem is the Japanese."

Yes, the specter of Dance in the Mood looms large over this year's American Oaks. For the first time in the race's three-year history, a top-class Japanese runner has invaded for this 1 1/4-mile grass race for 3-year-old fillies. Dance in the Mood offers the best you can get in Japan. She is by the great racehorse and stallion Sunday Silence, is ridden by perennial riding champ Yutaka Take, is trained by perennial training champ Kazuo Fujisawa, and owns a Group 1 victory. In a wide-open field of 14, she is acknowledged as the horse to beat.

The American Oaks, a newly minted Grade 1 race, is the sixth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon Pacific and also features three other stakes races. It also is part of an ESPN telecast, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern, that groups four major stakes races in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's National Pick 4 wager, which has a guaranteed pool of $400,000.

Among the full field of 14 are runners from four continents: North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. "It is what racing is all about," Biancone said.

"You have to give Hollywood Park and Martin Panza credit," Biancone said. Panza, Hollywood Park's racing secretary, came up with the idea for the race. "They thought it was a good idea. It turned out to be a great idea. If we win, it will be greater."

Mambo Slew comes off a late-running victory in the Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park on June 13, in which she got clear late and rallied. That was her first start following a two-month freshening.

"We gave her a break, freshened her up, let her eat some good Kentucky bluegrass," Biancone said. "It gave her a chance to mature and fill out."

Mambo Slew drew well, landing post 2.

won the first four starts of her career, including the Group 1 Japanese 1000 Guineas, before suffering her first loss in her most recent start, the Group 1 Japanese Oaks. The Oaks was at 1 1/2 miles, which might be beyond Dance in the Mood's optimum range, but it was also the only time she has raced on a left-handed course. She has been favored in all five of her races, and was odds-on four times.

Steel Princess, who won three times in four starts in France, appears next-best among the invaders. She was a Group 3 winner in May, then was 10th in the French Oaks. All her turf races have been on ground with much more give than she will encounter Saturday. She also drew poorly, landing post 13.

Irish invader Misty Heights will try to give trainer Dermot Weld his second straight victory in this race. He captured the 2003 American Oaks with Dimitrova. Misty Heights won a listed stakes at Gowran Park four weeks ago after finishing eighth in the Irish 1000 Guineas.

Boulevardofdreams, Eternal Melody, and French Lady - all born in New Zealand - were bred on Southern Hemisphere time and thus are several months older than their Northern Hemisphere rivals. Because of that, they must carry four more pounds (125 to 121) than the other 11 runners. Eternal Melody has raced once in this country, finishing third in the Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 29.

The best of the California-based runners are Ticker Tape, who beat Mambo Slew earlier this year, and Lovely Rafaela and Western Hemisphere, who finished one-two in last month's Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Western Hemisphere is a striking chestnut with similar markings to her full brother General Challenge. Western Hemisphere "is not as tall as him, but has a much better mind than him," said her trainer, Bob Baffert.

With little pace in the race, Western Hemisphere could lead early, though she may relax better this time because she is removing blinkers.

Hollywood Story, who won the Hollywood Starlet last fall, is making her first start on turf.