02/17/2006 1:00AM

Speed duel best setup for 'Shadow'

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When Shadow of Illinois won the San Simeon Handicap on the hillside turf course last April, the victory was not without its toll. He was a disappointment in four subsequent starts and later in the year missed nearly three months of racing.

"He pulled a muscle in the San Simeon, and it took a few races to figure it out," trainer Anthony Saavedra said.

This year, Saavedra has in excellent form. The 6-year-old gelding was second at 18-1 in the Impressive Luck Handicap on the hillside turf course on Jan. 25, a race that served as a prep to Sunday's $125,000 Sensational Star Handicap for statebreds over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf.

At least the race is scheduled for the turf. Wet weather could lead to the race being held on the main track, which would make Proud Tower Too a very strong favorite. Trained by Sal Gonzalez, Proud Tower Too won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs in an upset here on Dec. 26, but was 11th in the Sunshine Millions Classic at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 28.

, the 120-pound topweight, drew the rail in a field of 13. Proud Tower Too has made one start on turf, finishing fourth in an allowance race at Hollywood Park last June. He was supplemented to the Sensational Star for $2,500 on Tuesday.

Aside from Shadow of Illinois, Proud Tower Too must hold off two major stakes winners from 2005 - Red Warrior, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Sprint, and McCann's Mojave, who won the California Cup Classic. Both have won on turf, but are better on the main track.

, who has earned $558,053, has never started on turf, but was a game third in the Malibu.

A speed duel would greatly help Shadow of Illinois, especially on turf. Owned by Dave and Ella Sivage, Shadow of Illinois rallied from off the pace in the San Simeon and Impressive Luck handicaps.

Saavedra is hoping the Sensational Star is not transferred to the dirt.

"I don't want to think that," he said. "I want to go down the hill so bad."

Last year, Shadow of Illinois set the pace in the Sensational Star when the race was run on a wet-fast track, and faded to finish sixth.

"We ran in this race last year in the slop, but he was on the lead," Saavedra said. "He needs to come from off of it."

Saavedra may get his wish on Sunday.