10/25/2006 11:00PM

Moscow Burning: One more for the road

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The party ends on Saturday.

No, the neighbors have not complained about the noise, and the cops did not show up to break it up and tell everyone to go home, but the last three years have certainly been a cause of celebration for owner Don Van Kempen and trainer Jim Cassidy.

During that time, they have watched - sometimes in amazement - at the good fortune they stumbled upon in the summer of 2003 when they claimed Moscow Burning for $25,000. She will retire after starting in Saturday's $100,000 California Cup Distance Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, ending her career with earnings in excess of $1.4 million, a record sum for a California-bred female.

In a few days, she will be gone. On Nov. 6, Moscow Burning will be sold at Keeneland, Hip No. 193 of the November breeding stock sale. At age 6, she sells as a racing or broodmare prospect.

None of what is coming up - the final start or the sale - will be easy for Van Kempen.

"I'm feeling like I'm selling one of my kids," Van Kempen said on a recent day at Santa Anita. "I feel terrible. I have mixed emotions. It's been such a terrific time. I've never tried to get a horse like her.

"To get a horse like her, to claim her, is like a dream. She's excited my life for three years now."

Moscow Burning's highlights include wins in the 2003 California Cup Distance Handicap, the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Park in 2004, the 2005 California Cup Distance Handicap, and the 2006 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

She was named the California-bred horse of the year for 2004, finished fourth in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Lone Star Park, and fourth against males in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in 2004, losing by three-quarters of a length.

Cassidy remembers how excited Van Kempen and his friends were when Moscow Burning won the 2003 California Cup Distance Handicap, After all, the $60,000 first-place prize more than paid for her claiming price. At the time, no one could have dreamed how much she would achieve.

"With Moscow, it's like you stole something," Cassidy said. "It's as if someone said to you, 'Excuse me, that's my horse you stole.' You think, God, I wouldn't want to happen to me."

Bred by Harris Farms and Ken Maddy Trust, Moscow Burning (Moscow Ballet-Burning Desire, by Mr. Leader) was taken for $25,000 in August 2003. Van Kempen had considered claiming her for $12,500 in her previous start and then had second thoughts when she appeared for the higher price.

At the time, he recalled thinking, "Don't screw this up. Take this horse."

Van Kempen, 66, lives in Vista, Calif. He owns a company that sells shampoo for horses and dogs. Moscow Burning is by far the best horse to have worn his silks.

"I've had horses since I was 30," he said. "I started with a $5,000 claimer."

Van Kempen recalls that his first horse ran last in three consecutive starts before being sent to Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, in the early 1970's. The horse's new trainer called Van Kempen and said, "This is the fastest horse at Caliente," Van Kempen recalled. "I lived in L.A. at the time. We drove down to watch her run. She ran last."

Van Kempen claimed another horse for $6,250 shortly thereafter and that horse was his first winner. Now he claims a few in Southern California or buys horses in training in England.

Van Kempen is not a breeder, which is why he plans to sell Moscow Burning, but only if she reaches a $1 million reserve.

"They say she's worth between one and three million," he said. "I wouldn't take less than one million, that's for sure. I have mixed emotions. They wanted me to sell last year and I said, 'No, I'll race her next year.'

"She deserves to be with somebody that can put her with the right studs. I'm not in the breeding business. I like to claim horses."

A win on Saturday would be Moscow Burning's third of the year and 12th victory in her 33-race career. For Cassidy, it would be the ideal ending. He was stung when Moscow Burning was beaten a nose by Dancing Edie in the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar in July.

Cassidy still thinks that Moscow Burning should have won the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup against males in 2004, a race in which she had trouble through the stretch.

"There have been a couple of near misses that upset me," he said. "If she'd beaten the boys, I'd have been a happy camper."

Van Kampen has short-term advice for a potential buyer: Campaign Moscow Burning in restricted races, but only for the next few months.

"They should run her in the Sunshine Millions Turf and get $300,000," he said, predicting that Moscow Burning could win the January race. "You can't breed until February."

Maybe the party is not over after all.