03/15/2005 1:00AM

Tarlow takes a breather

Tarlow (center), shown winning last weekend's Santa Margarita, could be headed to Kentucky for the Louisville Breeders' Cup on May 6.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Tarlow has emerged as the new queen of California's older female division, but plans for a spring campaign will not be made until her stablemate Giacomo runs Saturday in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds.

A front-running win in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap established Tarlow as the top filly or mare in the West, and trainer John Shirreffs said her next start could be in the Grade 2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 6, Kentucky Oaks Day, at Churchill Downs.

"It depends on what happens with Giacomo - if we go to Kentucky, we can take [Tarlow]," Shirreffs said.

Both horses are owned by Jerry and Ann Moss. Either way, Tarlow will get a short break.

"She's run three times at Santa Anita already," said Shirreffs, noting that the Apple Blossom on April 9 at Oaklawn Park "comes up a little quick."

Miss Loren, third as the favorite in the Santa Margarita, also will get a break, trainer Richard Mandella said. Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Maria one start back, Miss Loren was making her first start for Mandella in the Santa Margarita.

"I'm going to give her a little break, get to know her, and point for Hollywood Park," he said.

McAnally will take two to Oaklawn

Good Student was the unluckiest Santa Margarita starter. A front-runner, she stumbled badly leaving the gate, lost tactical position, and raced near the back throughout as third wagering choice.

"She got cut up a little bit," trainer Ron McAnally said. "Luckily, she didn't tear a quarter off; the cuts were up high and we can take care of them. If she would have tore her quarter off, it would have taken more time."

McAnally plans to send Good Student and House of Fortune to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom. He said House of Fortune, who scratched from the Santa Margarita, runs well fresh and would train up to the race.

Lukas makes Aqueduct plans

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Victor Espinoza will team up April 9 at Aqueduct for a three-pronged assault on the Wood Memorial card. In addition to Going Wild in the Grade 1 Wood, Lukas will start Big Top Cat in the Grade 3 Bay Shore and Grand Reward in the Grade 1 Carter. Espinoza will ride all three.

Big Top Cat pressed the pace and finished sixth on Saturday in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby around two turns, and will back up to seven furlongs for the Grade 3 Bay Shore.

"He's still short; he's a heavy-muscled horse," Lukas said.

Big Top Cat won a maiden sprint race Jan. 29 at Santa Anita, but subsequently faltered in two route races.

Grand Reward will cut back from a good fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap when he runs seven furlongs in the Carter.

"He really came off that race beautifully," Lukas said. "He's going to be one of the better horses [this year], and seven-eighths is well within his scope with his speed."

Grand Reward, a 4-year-old by Storm Cat out of Serena's Song, has improved in each start this winter.

"We've got a horse that's greatly improving," Lukas said.

Consolidator gets another chance

Consolidator runs for Lukas on Saturday in the Grade 2 San Felipe, which he said "might be the definitive race of spring. That's a nice set of horses; this will sort them out a little bit."

Consolidator will try to rebound from a subpar comeback when he faces Roman Ruler, Wilko, Giacomo, Golden Shine, and Don't Get Mad.

Consolidator finished fourth and last on Feb. 13 in the San Vicente, and Lukas blamed himself after the race.

"I'm comfortable this time. I was a little soft on him going into the last one. I thought he was good enough to get a decent race without doing a lot, and I didn't do enough with him," Lukas said. "I had him too fresh. He was raising hell in the paddock and the walking ring. I feel comfortable where I'm at now."

Roman Ruler worked a half-mile Tuesday in 48 seconds, and will be making his first start since the Breeders' Cup. Trainer Bob Baffert said the San Felipe "is like a rehearsal. We're taking baby steps right now."

He said the quarter crack that kept Roman Ruler out of the Grade 2 San Vicente is "very good, so far."

New goal for Valentine Dancer

Valentine Dancer accomplished her main goal for 2005 in only the second start of her comeback on Jan. 29 - winning the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf for the second straight year.

"Although most plans don't work out the way you want them to, this one did," trainer Craig Lewis said.

From here on in, it's all gravy for the 5-year-old Valentine Dancer, owned by her breeders, Al and Sandee Kirkwood.

But when Valentine Dancer runs Sunday in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap, she can aim for something that has eluded her so far - a graded stakes placing. Valentine Dancer has earned $900,126 by winning 7 of 20 starts, and the California-bred will start as a contender in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana.

"Her best distance is probably a mile, but she did win two half-million-dollar races at a mile and an eighth," Lewis said. "The good thing about her is she has a tremendous turn of foot, and good tactical speed."

Lewis also trains Valentine Dancer's full brother, the 4-year-old allowance gelding Carano, and said a 3-year-old half-sister to Valentine Dancer is nearing her debut. The daughter of General Meeting is named Last Dance for Me. The dam Gilded Dancer died after foaling the filly.

The field for the $150,000 Santa Ana is expected to include Megahertz, 122 pounds; Moscow Burning, 120; Katdogawn, 117; Valentine Dancer, 117; Ask for the Moon, 116; Barancella, 116; and Stupendous Miss, 113. Pickle was not supplemented to the race by the 10 a.m. deadline Tuesday.