02/22/2002 1:00AM

Roman Dancer should like turf

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes - a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint - is generally not considered a prime goal for 3-year-olds. Yet that is precisely the Baldwin's purpose this year - a sensible late-winter objective for colts and geldings whose future will more likely be on turf, rather than 1 1/4 miles on dirt.

A field of 12 entered the $100,000 Baldwin; they arrive from everywhere. Irish Vale, training like a colt who may fire at a big price, is here from England. Euro-import Doc Holiday finished a creditable third behind Johannesburg last fall at Newmarket; he will appreciate the class drop in his United States debut. The field also includes shippers from Canada and northern California, one who last raced at Fresno, and two others who began careers overseas.

Bettors able to find the winner in the wide-open field will be justly rewarded, yet despite the diversity, the Baldwin favorite is a familiar face. Roman Dancer, already one of the top 3-year-old sprinters in California with a win in the Sunny Slope Stakes and a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 San Miguel last month, switches to grass for the first time in six starts. It's a surface he should relish.

Trainer Chris Paasch had his eye on the Baldwin since the start of the year, even while Roman Dancer was making a name for himself on dirt. The colt's pedigree supports Paasch's contention that Roman Dancer will improve on turf. He was sired by Polish Numbers, a Danzig stallion whose offspring win at 20 percent first start on grass. In addition, Roman Dancer is a half-brother to I'm All Yours, a New York-bred stakes winner whose 10 starts on turf resulted in seven wins.

To win the Baldwin, Roman Dancer may only have to duplicate his Jan. 13 effort in which he missed by a nose to Popular, while four lengths clear of third. Alex Solis rides Roman Dancer.

Eddie Delahoussaye rides Irish Vale, a European shipper training like he may spring a surprise.

Irish Vale was purchased last fall in Europe by trainer Jim Cassidy, and his subpar efforts overseas can be partially explained by soft footing. A listed stakes winner who is 2 for 9, Irish Vale has been training super for his U.S. debut, with Delahouassaye aboard. Cassidy also starts Road to Justice, whose best races are expected to be at longer distances.

Expected Program, Holdthehelm, Red Briar, and Shuffling Kid also must be considered contenders.

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