01/25/2006 12:00AM

McCann's Mojave to let loose

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Trainer Paddy Gallagher wants McCann's Mojave close to the front in Saturday's Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The tactical experiments are over for McCann's Mojave, who starts in Saturday's $1 million at Santa Anita.

After winning the $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November by leading throughout, McCann's Mojave was taken off the pace in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 10.

The plan failed. McCann's Mojave never threatened the leaders in the Native Diver and finished 7 1/2 lengths behind Trotamondo.

For the Sunshine Millions Classic, jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. will be under instruction from trainer Paddy Gallagher to keep McCann's Mojave near the front.

"We'll send him away from there and see how it sets up," Gallagher said. "There is a lot of speed in the race, but, going long, I think he's one-dimensional and has to be up there."

McCann's Mojave is one of six California-breds matched against six Florida-breds in the Sunshine Millions Classic, the most lucrative of eight stakes to be run at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park for horses bred in those two states.

Each track hosts four stakes; the races will be televised nationally on NBC from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Three of the races are worth $500,000 - the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita, and the Turf and Distaff at Gulfstream.

Valentine Dancer, a California-bred, is seeking her third consecutive win in the Filly and Mare Turf, but must beat Moscow Burning, the 2004 California-bred horse of the year.

The $500,000 Turf over 1 1/8 miles is led by the Florida-breds Silver Tree, the winner of the Grade 3 Tropical Park Turf Handicap at Calder on Dec. 3, and Willow O Wisp, the winner of the Del Mar Derby last September.

In the Distaff, defending champion Sweet Lips makes her second start following a nine-month layoff. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Sweet Lips, a Florida-bred, was sixth as the odds-on favorite in the Stage Door Betty Handicap at Calder on Dec. 31. The California-breds Dream of Summer and House of Fortune have outstanding chances.

McCann's Mojave must beat two well-regarded California-based colts - Lava Man, a California-bred, and Buzzards Bay, a Florida-bred. Both are coming off disappointing races.

Lava Man, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup last July, finished 11th in the Japan Cup Dirt in Tokyo on Nov. 26, while Buzzards Bay, the winner of the 2005 Santa Anita Derby, was seventh in the Sir Beaufort Stakes on Dec. 26.