11/03/2005 12:00AM

Surprise: Valentine Dancer in Cal Cup Distaff

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Benoit & Associates
Valentine Dancer, here with Victor Espinoza, is proven in longer races on dirt or grass.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Craig Lewis and owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood had three races to choose from on Sunday's California Cup for their millionaire mare Valentine Dancer. The choices were the $150,000 Matron at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, the $150,000 Distaff at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course, or the $100,000 Distance Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Valentine Dancer is proven in longer races on both turf and dirt, which made their decision to go for the Distaff a surprise.

Valentine Dancer is the 122-pound highweight in the Distaff, which drew 14 entrants, the most popular race on the 11-race program for California-breds.

"It will be new because she's racing six and a half down the hill," Lewis said. "We thought it over and decided it would be something we'd like to try."

Valentine Dancer's presence in the Distaff was the biggest surprise in the entries for the Cal Cup, which was drawn Thursday.

Overall, 117 were entered on the California Cup program, which consists of eight races worth $100,000 or more, two $50,000 starter handicaps for claimers, and a maiden race. While the Distaff, with 14 horses, has the largest field, there are only six entrants in the Distance Handicap, led by the reigning Cal-bred horse of the year, Moscow Burning.

The richest race of the program is the $250,000 Classic, which drew a weak field. The 122-pound highweight is Desert Boom, who won the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park in July and was third in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in September in his last start.

There are standouts in several races. Irish Bar leads the $125,000 Juvenile, and Dream of Summer will be heavily favored in the $150,000 Matron. The Grade 1 winner Unfurl the Flag is expected to dominate the $150,000 Sprint, while El Don and Running Free are the top contenders in the $175,000 Mile.

The Mile does not include defending champion A to the Z, who is being given a rest, according to trainer Paula Capestro.

He finished eighth in his last start, the Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine in September.

DQ of Balance quite a surprise

The disqualification of Balance from first to third in Wednesday's $67,500 Hidden Light Stakes for 2-year-old fillies left both the winning and losing connections stunned.

Balance, trained by David Hofmans, won the one-mile turf race by 1 1/4 lengths over Cross, but was ruled to have veered in during the final furlong, interfering with Golden Silk, the third-place finisher, who took up in the final furlong.

After a 10-minute inquiry, stewards John Herbuveaux, Kim Sawyer, and George Slender ruled that Balance cost Golden Silk a placing when she veered in. Cross finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of Golden Silk.

The decision surprised John Amerman, who owns Balance with his wife, Jerry. "I don't believe this," he said near the winner's circle when the ruling was announced.

Cross, the promoted winner, races for Ty and Lee Leatherman and trainer Doug O'Neill. The filly was making her first start for them, having been purchased privately after winning a maiden race at Colonial Downs in Virginia in the summer.

O'Neill also was surprised at the decision.

"I feel horrible for the filly that won," he said. "She was much the best."

While watching the replays, the Amerman family and Hofmans were greeted by several people offering sympathies that Balance had been disqualified.

Later, Hofmans was philosophical about the loss. "I know this is a nice filly," he said.

The Hidden Light Stakes is designed as a prep to the $100,000 Miesque Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park later this month. But the Miesque was canceled this week, along with all other turf races at the Hollywood meet.

As a result, Cross may try dirt, O'Neill said.

"We bought her for the Miesque," O'Neill said. "I think she can run well on the dirt. She trains well on the dirt."

Hollywood Story spikes a temperature

Hollywood Story, who finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park last weekend, emerged from the race with an illness, trainer John Shirreffs said.

Shirreffs said that Hollywood Story had a temperature on Wednesday, two days after returning to Southern California.

"She was good the first day and then had a little temperature," he said.

A winner of 3 of 19 starts and $862,015, Hollywood Story has struggled in recent starts. The Distaff was her fifth consecutive loss, dating back to the Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park in May. She was second in the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar in August.

Shirreffs said it was unclear whether owner George Kirkorian would keep Hollywood Story, 4, in training next year.

"That will be a decision that George will have to make," he said.

Douglas hires new agent

Jockey Rene Douglas, a former leading rider at Arlington Park and other tracks, has hired Brian Beach as his agent. Beach, who also represents Jose Valdivia Jr., replaces Bob Meldahl as Douglas's agent. Meldahl is now booking mounts solely for Corey Nakatani.

Douglas, who has struggled at this meeting, recently gave Beach a commitment that he was staying in Southern California. Through Wednesday, Douglas had won 4 races from 43 mounts at the current Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

"He had asked me to take his book three or four weeks ago," Beach said. "I told him he needed to decide whether he was staying. He got some things straightened out and said he was staying."

Baez, aide to McAnally, dies at 87

Aurelio Baez, a backstretch employee who worked for trainer Ron McAnally since the early 1960's, died in late October after experiencing heart problems, McAnally said.

Better known as "Cuba," the nation where he was born, Baez managed McAnally's stable at whichever Southern California track was not in operation.

Baez, 87, had been hospitalized frequently in the past year because of heart problems.

"He had a great personality and was really good for me," McAnally said.

McAnally said burial would be in Florida, where Baez has family.