01/23/2009 1:00AM

Soldier's Dancer looks on target


ARCADIA, Calif. - The $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf did not exactly sneak up on owner Herman Heinlein or trainer David Vivian.

"We've been thinking about it all year," Vivian said. "I've been pointing to this race for four or five months."

Soldier's Dancer finished second in the $500,000 Turf one year ago at Gulfstream Park as the third betting choice, but when the Florida-bred runs at Santa Anita for the first time Saturday, Soldier's Dancer could start favored.

"I wouldn't trade my chances with anybody. I think I have the best horse," Vivian said. Soldier's Dancer has won 9 of 27, and his nose defeat last out in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder sets him up perfectly for the 1 1/8-mile Turf.

With his deep closer in a race filled with pace, Vivian could be right calling Soldier's Dancer the "best horse" Saturday. But the 14-horse field includes only one millionaire, and if Grade 1 winner Presious Passion runs his best race, he could spring another upset in a career of upsets.

Presious Passion was a Florida-bred standout in 2008, winning 3 of 11 including a $29.60 upset at Monmouth in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes, a $17.20 upset at Calder in the Grade 2 William McKnight Handicap, and a $42.60 upset in the Grade 3 Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

"We've been on quite a ride," trainer Mary Hartmann said Thursday in her first morning at Santa Anita. Presious Passion arrived Wednesday, he looks great physically, and with earnings of $1,052,018 he is the class of the field.

Try telling that to bettors. A 6-year-old gelding, Presious Passion has been winning at boxcar odds his entire career. In addition to an outstanding 2008, his $2 win payoffs include $58.60, $34.20, $22.80, $8.60, $23.40, and $136.20.

"I don't think people every really believed in him," Hartmann said.

Although his three wins last year were accomplished in front-running fashion, Presious Passion won six times previously rallying from behind.

"He's a horse that needs to be up close, but not necessarily on the lead," Hartmann said.

Presious Passion ran in the Sunshine Millions last year, but he reared at the gate and was never comfortable. His only subpar races last year were on wet courses.

Lucky J.H. and Mr. Chairman are the leading California-breds. Lucky J.H. will be among the pacesetters. After winning his Dec. 29 comeback in a turf sprint, Lucky J.H. had two options - the Sprint, or the Turf.

"Six furlongs is probably a little short for him, and a mile and an eighth is stretching his distance limitations," trainer Carla Gaines said. "But he's back on grass, this time we're out here." Lucky J.H., 8 for 18, finished third last year in the Turf at Gulfstream.

Mr. Chairman won the California Cup Classic on the main track last fall, and is dropping out of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. Other starters include Jack's Wild, Epic Power, Swift Winds, Liberian Freighter, Victory Pete, Icy Atlantic, Pistol Pete Afleet, Unusual Suspect, Seminole Native, and Screen to Screen.