07/14/2005 12:00AM

'Mona' too rusty to repeat?

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Mona Rose, winning last year's Dance Smartly Handicap under Eurico Rosa Da Silva, prepared to defend her title with a series of long daily gallops.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The quirky Mona Rose seeks to repeat last year's success in the $328,500 Dance Smartly Handicap on Saturday at Woodbine.

Mona Rose notched her first stakes in the 2004 Dance Smartly, at a time when she began to blossom for trainer Earl Barnett. In her June 4 seasonal debut in the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes, she finished a troubled third in her first start under jockey Todd Kabel.

The allowance prep for the Dance Smartly failed to fill, and Barnett said he's concerned that Mona Rosa has had just one start this year.

"At this time last year, she had had two wins going into the race," Barnett said. "She had a better foundation, and was on her game. She ran big in her one race this year. She got in tight around the three-eighths pole, and got squeezed a bit, but finished well.

"She gives the rider the impression that she's going to kick real quick when you have a hold of her, but when you go to ride her, she quickens that long strike a little bit, and it's not the kick you expect. This time, Todd will know her better and have a better idea of what she's capable of."

Barnett is content with the way Mona Rose has trained up to this nine-furlong turf race.

"We've been doing what we've normally done with her - working her lightly and giving her a two-mile gallop every day," Barnett said. "The odd day, we go three miles with her. She's a very strong galloper. She would go around there five times if you let her. She won't gallop the right way on either track, so we try to go the wrong way with her all the time, and the only time we can do that is late in the morning, when there's no traffic out there."

Nassau runner-up Ambitious Cat is also in the Grade 3 Dance Smartly, and she could be an up-and-comer in the local filly and mare turf division. An expensive daughter of Storm Cat, she was beaten just a half-length by Que Puntual in the Nassau, after mounting a wide rally from off a tepid pace.

Ambitious Cat suffered a stress fracture of her tibia last July, which sidelined her until early this year, according to trainer Eric Coatrieux.

"She's coming up to the race extremely well," Coatrieux said. "She's been working at the farm."