06/24/2004 11:00PM

Off the pace likely makes this race

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Moscow Burning and Noches de Rosa won important turf stakes on opposite coasts over Memorial Day weekend by leading or disputing the pace.

Their trainers do not want the responsibility of winning with the same style when they meet for the first time in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The prospect of a speed duel concerns Jim Cassidy, who trains Moscow Burning.

"I won't go with her," he said of Noches de Rosa. "I'll probably sit off of her."

Trainer Richard Mandella has not committed Noches de Rosa to the front end.

"She's done well both ways," he said of Noches de Rosa's ability to stalk.

Moscow Burning and Noches de Rosa were impressive in their recent wins. They have won over the Beverly Hills distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf and have won without setting the pace.

won the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Park on May 29 by a length without a serious challenge. Noches de Rosa dueled with Quero Quero through a slow pace in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 31. Noches de Rosa lost the lead briefly on the final turn and held off a late charge from Megahertz to win by a length.

"The thing that encouraged me in her last race was that she was on the lead, lost it, and then retook the lead," Mandella said.

Mike Smith will ride Noches de Rosa, the probable favorite in a field of six. Smith rode Noches de Rosa and Moscow Burning in their last starts.

Noches de Rosa will carry starting highweight of 118 pounds, one more than Moscow Burning.

Smith's decision reunites Kent Desormeaux with Moscow Burning, whom Desormeaux rode to victory in the Fran's Valentine Stakes for California-bred females over 1 1/16 miles on turf April 24.

In that race, Moscow Burning was sixth with a quarter-mile remaining, but rallied score by 2 1/2 lengths.

"This filly doesn't have to have the lead," said Cassidy. "This is one tough girl."

The other starters are Ardum Relaunch, Light Jig, Miss Loren, and Notting Hill. Ardum Relaunch, Light Jig, and Notting Hill won allowance races on turf in their last starts. Miss Loren, a nine-time stakes winner in Argentina, was third in the Hawthorne Handicap on dirt in her U.S. debut June 6.