07/21/2003 11:00PM

Sundance Circle steps out front and center


AUBURN, Wash. - The local 2-year-old division at Emerald Downs has a leader, and his name is Sundance Circle.

Sundance Circle, a strapping son of Katowice, laid claim to the title with an authoritative 5 1/2-length victory at Emerald Downs over the favored Harvard Avenue in Saturday's $35,000 Emerald Express Stakes at six furlongs, getting the distance in a stakes-record 1:09. It was the second win in as many starts for Sundance Circle, who brought a bid of $52,000 from owner Mike Alhadeff at last year's Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association summer yearling sale.

"I thought he was the best-looking yearling in the sale," said trainer Howard Belvoir, "and when I showed him to Mike, he said, 'This is the one.' Mike owned Serenity Road, who is from the same family, so I think he was determined to buy this one. Jeff Bonde was the underbidder."

Sundance Circle is by Katowice, the sire of Longacres Mile winner Kid Katabatic, and is from Nightatmisskittys, an unraced half-sister to 14-time stakes winner Firesweeper and Serenity Road, a double stakes winner for Belvoir and Alhadeff in the 1980's.

"Mike and I have been together a long time, and it feels great to win this race for him," said Belvoir. "A good owner helps make a good horse, and Mike is always willing to do what is right for his horses."

What made Sundance Circle's victory even more gratifying for the trainer was that it was the first stakes win for rider Jennifer Whitaker, who served as Belvoir's assistant before she began riding here four years ago. Whitaker was twice the leading apprentice at Emerald, but a stakes win had eluded her until Saturday. She wasn't about to let it slip from her grasp.

"He made the lead easy today, and I never looked back," she said. "Down the lane I was just riding my horse and hoping that the wire was coming soon."

Belvoir said Alhadeff has turned down offers to buy Sundance Circle, and that he intends to campaign the gelding at Emerald until the meeting ends.

"Mike is a big supporter of Washington racing," said the trainer. "This is where he wants to race."

Sibling rivalry even for the weekend

Mike Alhadeff, of course, is the grandson of Joe Gottstein, the founder of Longacres, and the son of Morrie Alhadeff, longtime operator of the track, and Mike and brother Ken ran Longacres in the late 1980's before selling the track's property to Boeing in 1990. Since then, the brothers have operated competing racing stables, so Mike's stakes win on Saturday put a little extra pressure on trainer Doris Harwood, who saddled Silver Screen Girl for Ken Alhadeff in Sunday's $40,000 Boeing Handicap for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Silver Screen Girl, a 5-year-old daughter of Silver Ghost who sold for $45,000 at the 1999 WTBA summer yearling sale, had won five races and was coming off a strong second in the one-mile King County Handicap, but she had never scored in a stakes. She rose to the challenge on Sunday, however, setting a measured pace under rider Scott Saito and holding off the late charge of Tamarack Bay to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:42.40.

"This is sweet," said Harwood. "I really wanted to win this for Kenny, especially since Mike won one yesterday.

"I really thought we had the horse to win it if things went our way, and the race went exactly to plan. Scott was able to get to the front and slow down the pace, and Silver Screen Girl did the rest. She has always been very honest, and I think this year she is stronger and more mature. It is a result of the patience Kenny has shown toward her, and it is good to see that patience rewarded."

Harwood said Silver Screen Girl, whose name derives from the theater business Ken Alhadeff started after the sale of Longacres, will go next in the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff on Longacres Mile Day, Aug. 24.

Calldara: Long time no see for Bullock

Calldara, who was named last season's top 2-year-old filly at Emerald, returned to trainer Steve Bullock's barn last week and may start in Saturday's $40,000 Kent Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

"I haven't seen her in a year, so I'll have to watch her work before I decide about entering her," said Bullock.

Calldara won the Angie C. Stakes and the Barbara Shinpoch Stakes here last season, but she is coming off an disappointing campaign in the Midwest. After a creditable third against allowance company at Arlington Park in May, she ducked through the rail in her next start at Arlington in June, and then failed to finish the $125,000 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows July 4 after suffering from heat exhaustion.

Also nominated to the Kent are divisional leader Youcan'ttakeme; Brave Miss, winner of the Irish Day Handicap; undefeated Cascade Corona; and Mavoreen, who won the 1 1/16-mile San Jose Handicap at Bay Meadows in April.