05/29/2004 12:00AM

Moscow Burning rolls in Sheepshead


ELMONT, N.Y. - Less than a year after running in claiming races on the northern California fair circuit, Moscow Burning became a Grade 2 winner Saturday at Belmont Park.

With six riders content to allow Mike Smith to control the pace, Moscow Burning led every step of the way for 1 3/8 miles to win the Grade 2, $150,000 by one length. Spice Island, the 9-5 favorite, made a mild bid for second, four lengths ahead of Meridiana. Miss Hellie, Andover Lady, Alternate, and Savedbythelight completed the order of finish.

The victory was the fifth from 10 starts for Moscow Burning since she was claimed for $25,000 last August by trainer Casey Doyle on behalf of trainer James Cassidy for owner Don Van Kempen.

Since then, Moscow Burning has won two California-bred stakes, including the Fran's Valentine at Hollywood on April 24.

"She was really tough in the beginning," Cassidy said. "She had a mind of her own."

Cassidy said he wasn't sure whether Moscow Burning would run well on the yielding turf Saturday.

"I didn't know how she'd handle it if there was no bottom to this," he said. "I told Mike, the first five strides, if you feel comfortable just go ahead and nurse her along."

Smith got Moscow Burning out of the gate first, and she set fractions of 25.34 seconds, 52.27, 1:17.60, 1:42.48 and covered the 1 3/8 miles in 2:18.24. She returned $10.40 as the third choice.

"I thought, today they're probably going to give her the lead," said Smith, who went 2 for 2 in his homecoming to New York. "Why don't we see if we can go as slow as we can the first part, let them get to me somewhere around the three-eighths pole, let me kick away and see if I can kick on, and it worked."

Cassidy said he would likely point Moscow Burning to the Grade 2, $200,000 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 27.