09/25/2005 11:00PM

Meet's a feast of BC preps

Rock Hard Ten (above), a candidate for the BC Classic, and Stevie Wonderboy, a BC Juvenile hopeful, will use the Oak Tree meet as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup in New York.

ARCADIA, Calif. - There are higher objectives for Elusive Diva and Valentine Dancer than the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap, the feature race Wednesday, opening day of the autumn Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

Elusive Diva is launching a mini-campaign geared toward the Grade 1 Matriarch this fall at Hollywood Park; Valentine Dancer is nearing the all-time earnings mark by a California-bred filly or mare. The $100,000 Maddy, a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint, is only a means to an end. In that regard, the race symbolizes the entire Oak Tree meet.

Despite a rich autumn tradition, the 37th annual Oak Tree meet is relegated to a series of prep races. Eight graded stakes over the first two weekends serve as Breeders' Cup preps, followed by a midseason stakes lull. The 31-day Oak Tree meets ends with the popular California Cup on closing day, Sunday, Nov. 6.

Between now and then, Oak Tree is the West Coast road to Belmont. Breeders' Cup candidates Rock Hard Ten (Classic), Megahertz (Filly and Mare Turf) and Wild Fit (Juvenile Fillies) run Saturday at Oak Tree; Laura's Lucky Boy (Turf), Hollywood Story (Distaff), and Stevie Wonderboy (Juvenile) run Sunday; Greg's Gold (Sprint) and Singletary (Mile) run Oct. 8.

While none of the 14 fillies and mares in the Maddy is Breeders' Cup caliber, the field is strong, led by graded stakes winners Elusive Diva and Pickle, and millionaire Valentine Dancer. Others include Eastern Grade 3 winner Tara's Touch; course specialist Shining Energy, a 3-year-old Grade 2 winner; and Grade 3 winner Puxa Saco. Twelve will start.

Elusive Diva is the horse to beat, though trainer Mark Glatt said, "It's been a very difficult summer with her; she's been through a lot."

Has she ever. Elusive Diva won a Grade 3 turf sprint on the Santa Anita course in April, before things went awry. She shipped to New York, got sick, and came down with a severe infection in her right eye. Antibiotics failed, an abscess formed, and minor surgery was performed on her eye. Elusive Diva recovered, but after a dull sixth in her Aug. 17 comeback against males, she came down with a respiratory infection and a bruised hind foot.

"We've got all that behind her," Glatt said, adding he expects Elusive Diva will "be back to her old self Wednesday."

Nonetheless, the Maddy is only the first prep leading to the Grade 2 Las Palmas at a mile Nov. 5, followed by the Grade 1 Matriarch at a mile on turf at Hollywood. "If we can get her a Grade 1 win, she'll be worth an awful lot of money," Glatt said.

Pat Valenzuela rides Elusive Diva, who won both downhill starts impressively. She enters with 5 wins from 13 starts and earnings of $354,730. Elusive Diva will be among the favorites; her odds will depend on whether Valentine Dancer runs Wednesday or waits for the $250,000 Lady's Secret Handicap on Sunday.

"I've always wanted to try [Valentine Dancer] on the hill because she's got such a quick turn of foot," trainer Craig Lewis said. "We already know she loves this Santa Anita turf course."

Valentine Dancer has won 8 of 26 starts and earned $1,139,126. It leaves her just $236,339 short of the record held by Fran's Valentine ($1,375,465).

The Maddy would be a prep race for the $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff down the hill; the Lady's Secret would be a prep race for the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron at two turns on dirt. Either way, the goal is the same.

"If we get her to the Cal Cup and Sunshine Millions [next spring], we would have a reasonable chance of breaking the all-time Calbred record," Lewis said.

Those calculations could be foiled however, if Cal-bred Dream of Summer wins the BC Distaff. Jon Court rides Valentine Dancer.

Pickle scratched from the $100,000 Las Madrinas Handicap on Friday at Fairplex Park to run in the Maddy.

The wagering menu at Oak Tree marks the return of the $1 pick five on the last five races of the day.

Breeders' Cup rehearsals

SaturdayYellow Ribbon Stakes, Gr. 1$500,000F-M Turf
SaturdayGoodwood BC Handicap, Gr. 2500,000Classic
SaturdayOak Leaf Stakes, Gr. 2200,000Juvenile Fillies
SundayClement Hirsch Championship, Gr. 1250,000Turf
SundayLady's Secret BC Handicap, Gr. 2250,000Distaff
SundayNorfolk Stakes, Gr. 2200,000Juvenile
Oct. 8Ancient Title BC Handicap, Gr. 250,000Sprint
Oct. 8Oak Tree BC Mile, MGr. 2250,000Mile