01/26/2006 12:00AM

Moscow Burning can spoil rival's three-peat

Moscow Burning, winning the Cal Cup Distance in November, has finished second and fifth to Valentine Dancer in the last two runnings of the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The annual showdown between in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Saturday might be one of their last meetings.

The two 6-year-old mares do not meet often. Valentine Dancer is campaigned in races up to 1 1/8 miles, the distance of the Filly and Mare Turf and the minimum trip for Moscow Burning these days. At their age, they do not figure to run many more seasons.

But their past meetings in the Filly and Mare Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds have proven to be memorable, especially for Al and Sandee Kirkwood, the owner-breeders of Valentine Dancer.

In 2004 at Santa Anita, Valentine Dancer, under regular rider Jon Court, hugged the rail on the final turn and won by three-quarters of a length over Moscow Burning, who finished second after rallying wide.

Last year at Gulfstream Park, Valentine Dancer led by two lengths in midstretch and was fully extended to win by a neck. Moscow Burning finished fifth, losing by three-quarters of a length.

"It's amazing to run in three of them," said Craig Lewis, who trains Valentine Dancer. "They're not usually around trying for a three-peat. That is kind of phenomenal. Winning it would be out of this world."

For their third meeting in the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday, the edge seems to be with Moscow Burning. She has the most recent stakes win, the California Cup Distance Handicap here on Nov. 6, and the benefit of a recent start, a fifth in the Grade 2 La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder on Dec. 17.

Valentine Dancer has not started since finishing 11th in the California Cup Distaff on Nov. 6, her sixth consecutive loss.

The two California-bred mares are standouts against 10 rivals.

Valentine Dancer has won 8 of 28 starts and $1,144,126. Moscow Burning, the 2004 California-bred horse of the year, has won 9 of 24 starts and $902,525 for Bullseye Racing and trainer Jim Cassidy.

Lewis wanted to run Valentine Dancer in the Paseana Handicap on Jan. 13, but the plan was foiled when that race was postponed until Jan. 19 because of a lack of entries.

"I would have preferred to have the prep race because she's really keen," he said. "I think the prep race would have settled her down."

Valentine Dancer could be helped by the speedy Midwife, who won a stakes at Bay Meadows in 2004. She led in the 2005 Filly and Mare Turf before fading to finish ninth.

Moscow Burning will be near the front. She led throughout the Distance Handicap in November, her first start since returning from a six-month layoff caused by a back injury.

"That was the kind of race that makes it all worthwhile, to come back off a big layoff and run that big," Cassidy said.

Strategy may be the difference between the pair on Saturday.

"I think on any given day one could beat the other," Lewis said. "It might go down to who has the best trip."

The field

Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles, turf

1Eclipse Winner (CA)C. Nakatani12220-1
2Valentine Dancer (CA)J. Court1223-1
3Allbow (CA)M. Hernandez12230-1
4Midwife (FL)R. Baze12210-1
5First Draft(CA)K. Desormeaux12220-1
6Moscow Burning (CA)D. Flores1222-1
7Tiger Belle (FL)J. Santiago12030-1
8Dancing General (CA)G. Gomez1205-1
9Vous (FL)V. Espinoza1228-1
10Beneficial Bartok (CA)D. Cohen12215-1
11Formal Miss (FL)C. Velasquez12212-1
12Charmsil (FL)M. Pedroza12015-1
Also eligible
13Brave Vixen (CA)V. Espinoza12230-1

* All starters carry 122 pounds
* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, 4:30-6 p.m. (Eastern) NBC