07/28/2004 11:00PM

Small-time trainer develops major talent Panorama Valley


CHICAGO - Anne Mitchell, a small-time, hands-on trainer, came here from Ohio in the summer of 2001 with a nice 2-year-old filly named Desert Sage, who won an allowance race, but was not good enough for the Arlington-Washington Lassie.

So much has changed. To begin with, Desert Sage foundered in South Carolina and was euthanized after only three starts - a blow to Mitchell and owner Helen Andrews. During the summer of 2002, Mitchell was a refugee trainer. Denied stalls at her home base, Thistledown, she and her husband, Bill Pezzano, moved their mom-and-pop operation onto an eastern Ohio Standardbred track, shipping east to race sporadically at Mountaineer. It was a long, hard summer - the horses could not even breeze at their base - but in 2003, Mitchell found a new summer home at Prairie Meadows.

Now she has returned to Arlington Park with another 2-year-old filly for Andrews. This one looks like the real thing.

Panorama Valley makes her third start Saturday in the $50,000 Silver Maiden. In her debut, she beat males by 10 1/4 lengths in a Prairie Meadows maiden race. Seven weeks later, Panorama Valley won a $50,000 stakes in Iowa by 11, running five furlongs in 57 seconds. This filly wasn't supposed to be this good, or run well this soon, either. She's by Peaks and Valleys and out of a Conquistador Cielo mare, hardly a can't-miss recipe for summer 2-year-old speed.

"She looks like a two-turn horse," Mitchell said. "She doesn't look like one of those compact, speedy types."

As a late yearling who began training with Mitchell in Aiken, S.C., Panorama Valley didn't look like much of anything.

"She just was this bad-looking weanling," Mitchell said, recalling her first impression of Panorama Valley at Andrews's Ohio farm. "Basically, the people were saying, 'She might make a nice pleasure horse.' Helen asked me to take her to South Carolina, and I thought, well, we'll just do the best we can. She got to Aiken, and she did not miss a step. She was wonderful. I remember around last February, a little light bulb going on: She's not just going to race; she's going to race this year."

It is exhilarating for a small player to come up with a big horse. Often, it also is fleeting.

Panorama Valley ran too fast to escape notice, and prospective buyers cropped up.

"I forgot, when you have a baby like that, the phone's going to start ringing," said Mitchell.

With only 14 starts this season, Mitchell has no second string. But when the prospect of a sale arose, Andrews responsed, acccording to Mitchell, by saying "That's really out of the question."

"This is the kind of horse you wait for," said Mitchell.

Mitchell's idea is to aim for the $100,000 Lassie on Sept. 19, but the Silver Maiden comes first. The race, at 5 1/2 furlongs, has a full field of 12, with one also-eligible. Mary Alex looked good winning her career debut here July 7, and Royal Fudge won a Churchill maiden by more than four lengths on June 20. There are some nice prospects, but at this point, Panorama Valley is ahead of them.

Senor Swinger aims for Million

Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed Thursday that Senor Swinger is headed to the Arlington Million, and Baffert said he could have a second starter for the race in Sabiango.

Sabiango is based with Baffert in California, while Senor Swinger, who won the Arlington Handicap here in his last start, trains with Baffert's Kentucky string.