12/06/2008 1:00AM

Soldier's Dancer seeks clean start


MIAMI - Nobody will blame trainer David Vivian if he closes his eyes or turns away altogether when they spring the starting gate for Saturday's $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder. Not after what he saw when the gates opened in front of Soldier's Dancer four weeks earlier in the Bonnie Heath Turf Cup.

Soldier's Dancer stumbled badly leaving the starting gate, unseating rider Manoel Cruz, as the even-money favorite in the Bonnie Heath. He'll return Saturday as the 121-pound starting highweight against an even tougher field and will try to make amends in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf.

"He just took a bad step and stumbled so badly his nose hit the ground," Vivian said, recalling the harrowing circumstances at the start of the Bonnie Heath.

The incident prevented Soldier's Dancer from having an opportunity to extend a two-race win streak that included victories in the President's Cup Stakes at Philadelphia Park and the Grade 3 Miami Mile over his home course at Calder on Oct. 18.

"He grabbed a quarter when he stumbled, but it was nothing serious," Vivian said. "He was off about three or four days, but he's training as good as ever for the race on Saturday. You know earlier in his career he would stay in the gate at the break, which is the reason why I took the blinkers off him, and he's not really had any problem ever since."

Soldier's Dancer, a son of Lost Soldier owned and bred by Herman Heinlein, could move within less than $8,000 of the $1 million mark in career earnings with a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Tropical Turf.

"I've got the feeling they've got me to beat, and he's never let me down when I've felt that way before," Vivian predicted. "The distance is good for him, and this is his stomping grounds."

Cruz will be back aboard for the Tropical Turf.

Among Soldier's Dancer's chief competition will be Ballast, a 7-year-old Irish-bred who has captured the last two editions of the Tropical Turf. Ballast was sidelined more than seven months due to a soft-tissue problem following his neck triumph over National Captain in this race a year ago, and he has started just four times during 2008. Ballast's last outing was his best on the comeback trail, a game neck victory against a very good field of allowance horses at Keeneland.

"I thought he might have lost a step when he came back, but his last race proved to me he's just as good now as when he won this race a year ago," trainer Graham Motion said.

Icy Atlantic took advantage of Soldier's Dancer's misfortune leaving the gate to win the Bonnie Heath, rallying to a 1 1/4-length decision over Magic Mecke. Now 7, Icy Atlantic will eclipse the $1 million mark in career earnings with a first- or second-place finish in the Tropical Turf.

Spice Route, second in the Grade 1 Canadian International earlier this fall, and the multiple graded stakes winner Silver Tree also are among the extremely strong field entered for the Tropical Turf.