03/01/2002 12:00AM

Snow Dance: Firm only

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer John Ward still has a hard time believing Snow Dance lost her last start, the Jan. 25 De La Rose Handicap. The computerized photo-finish camera said Snow Dance lost to Veil of Avalon by maybe an inch, but Ward remains skeptical.

"If you look real close at the image, you can see there is some concavity toward the inside," where Snow Dance finished, said Ward. "I honestly think there might have been some distortion, but what do I know?"

Ward knows there is an easy way for Snow Dance to avoid a photo finish when the standout filly faces seven rivals Sunday in the $100,000 Suwannee River Handicap. That is, of course, for Snow Dance to win off by herself - and a convincing triumph is always a possibility whenever she sets foot on a turf course.

In seven career starts on grass, Snow Dance, a 4-year-old filly, has won five times, with her only defeats coming in otherwise strong efforts in the De La Rose and the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last fall.

One potential obstacle for Snow Dance is that Ward probably won't lead her out of her stall Sunday if the course has too much "give" to it.

"She prefers a firmer course, plus it's a long year," said Ward.

The Gulfstream turf has absorbed a fair amount of moisture over the past week, enough that turf racing was cancelled here Friday. So if Snow Dance, the 119-pound highweight with Pat Day named, does not start, then obviously the complexion of the Grade 3 Suwannee River will undergo a major change.

Trainer Christophe Clement, having run Veil of Avalon in California since the De La Rose, is keeping her in his Payson Park barn but has entered Step With Style for the 1 1/8-mile Suwannee River. Step With Style, a 5-year-old Gulch mare, has a steady late run that gives her as good a chance as any if Snow Dance is scratched.

If weather forces the race onto the main track, then Tap Dance, with Jerry Bailey aboard, would be a standout choice. Trained by Mark Hennig, Tap Dance has failed to hit the board in three turf starts but is 4 for 13 on dirt.

The rest of the field consists of Salty You, Sound of the West, Golden Antigua, Windsong, and Delirio.

The Suwannee River is carded as the 10th of 11 Sunday races. First post is 1 p.m.

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