01/27/2005 12:00AM

Moscow Burning on road for riches

The well-traveled Moscow Burning is coming off a career-best performance , a tough trip in the Hollywood Turf Cup.

Moscow Burning first made her name in restricted races, but she has come a long ways since then. She was one of the best female turf performers in the country last year, with a victory in Belmont's Sheepshead Bay Handicap and narrow losses against males in the Del Mar Handicap and Hollywood Turf Cup.

She returns to a restricted race on Saturday, and figures to be richly rewarded for it. The California-bred mare has traveled from her Southern California base to Gulfstream Park for the $500,000 Filly and Mare Turf, in which she will be a heavy favorite against a full field in the 1 1/8-mile grass race. A victory will put the consistent, well-traveled 5-year-old above the $1 million mark in career earnings. Not bad for a $25,000 claim.

"She's so tough," said her trainer, Jim Cassidy, who believes Moscow Burning is coming off the best performance of her career, a fourth-place finish in the Hollywood Turf Cup, in which she was beaten by just three-quarters of a length.

"She should have won the race," Cassidy said. "She didn't have any luck. She was outside, bounced off Better Talk Now, then re-rallied. If she'd have had a straight and true trip, she would have won."

Moscow Burning is used to heading on the road. She made two trips to New York last year - for the Sheepshead Bay and Flower Bowl - and went to Texas and Florida. Although she won just twice, she was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, third in the Flower Bowl, third in the Del Mar Handicap, and second in the John Mabee Handicap.

She drew well for Saturday's race, landing post 3 in a field that has 13 entrants, including one also-eligible.

Also representing California is Valentine Dancer, the defending champion of this race, which was run last year at Santa Anita. Valentine Dancer figures to move forward off a comeback race two weeks ago, which was her first start in nearly nine months. A victory would cap an emotional week for trainer Craig Lewis, who left the hospital on Monday after being temporarily paralyzed because of a bulging disk in his back.

Florida's leading contender is Changing World, who was third in Calder's My Charmer Handicap after opening a long lead in her last start. She has turned into a headstrong front-runner in her last two races.

"She's kind of a tough horse to rate and train," said her trainer, Barclay Tagg. "She just wants to go to the front."

Tagg said his assistant, Robin Smullen, has been getting on Changing World regularly and "has gotten her to settle down in her breezes."

Tagg said one of his biggest worries is trying to overcome post 10.

"I don't like it," he said.

The field

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

1Midwife (FL)R. Baze1206-1
2Marwood (FL)J. Santos12230-1
3Moscow Burning (CA)J. Valdivia Jr.1225-2
4Vous (FL)J. Bravo12020-1
5Shalini (CA)P. Valenzuela12212-1
6Iowa's Image (FL)M. Cruz12250-1
7Scrofa (CA)J. Velazquez1209-2
8Formal Miss (FL)J. Chavez12212-1
9Valentine Dancer (CA)J. Court1224-1
10Changing World (FL)E. Prado1227-2
11R Obsession (FL)C. Velasquez12020-1
12Tucked Away (CA)K. Fallon12250-1
Also Eligible:
13Russian Sweetiepie (FL)C. Velasquez12250-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. Eastern, NBC