05/21/2002 12:00AM

Three major players reach high


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A horse who is racing above his allowance conditions is not necessarily racing over his head. Don't believe it? Tune in this weekend at Hollywood Park, where three logical contenders - each eligible for an easier spot - enter stakes races they are clearly capable of winning. Even if they are in tough.

Cashmina, eligible to a two-other-than allowance, faces Azeri and Affluent on Saturday in the Grade 1 Milady.

Crowned Dancer, a maiden, will be one of the favorites Sunday in the $65,000 Willard Proctor Memorial for 2-year-olds.

Finally, comebacker Kamsack, eligible for a one-other-than, returns from a seven-month layoff in the Grade 2 Lazaro Barrera Memorial on Monday.

From a wagering perspective, Cashmina is the most interesting because she faces two solid fillies in the 1 1/16-mile Milady, and is likely to be overlooked by most bettors. Cashmina's trainer, John Shirreffs, suggests it would be a mistake to forsake his longshot.

"Azeri and Affluent, they're proven, they're tough," he said, "but Cashmina's developing too, she's getting stronger and better. She's doing very well right now."

Shirreffs is not prone to hyperbole, and his endorsement of Cashmina's physical condition is reason enough for handicappers to take a second look at Cashmina's form. It includes four starts, two wins, and no starts since March 31. The break was by design.

"We thought if she could put on weight, which she has, that she would finish stronger," Shirreffs said.

A series of sharp workouts supports Shirreffs's opinion. Cashmina will ship Wednesday from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park.

The Milady field is also expected to include Azeri, 122 pounds; Affluent, 119; Ask Me No Secrets, 117; Alexine, 116; and Collect Call, 114. Cashmina will carry 113.

It is not unusual for 2-year-olds to race above their conditions, and the maiden Crowning Dancer will do so Sunday in the five-furlong Willard Proctor. Crowning Dancer finished second in his debut, despite a slow start and wide trip. Trainer Chris Paasch sees nothing but improvement for Crowning Dancer.

"He's a long-striding horse, he's going to go a distance," Paasch said. "And he learned a ton out of that race. I think the extra half-furlong and distance is going to be huge."

In fact, Crowning Dancer will be one of the favorites in the Proctor, which may include other maiden winners Expression, Royal Place, and Fabulous World. The Proctor is the first open 2-year-old stakes of the spring-summer meet.

Paasch will press his luck Monday, starting Kamsack in the seven-furlong, $150,000 Laz Barrera for 3-year-olds. The race will be Kamsack's first start since he had surgery because of knee chips after his seventh-place finish last fall in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Kamsack has won 1 of 3 starts. Paasch could have chosen an easier spot.

"We thought about the allowance race last week, but he's got plenty of works, he's fit, and I think the seven furlongs is going to help him. I've got everything to gain and nothing to lose," Paasch said.

Kamsack ran second behind Officer in the Del Mar Futurity. He has trained well for his comeback, and win or lose Paasch is sure he will make his presence felt. "He's not going to run fourth, beaten 10 lengths," Paasch said. "They will have to deal with him."

Kamsack, who earned a 96 Beyer in his second career start as a 2-year-old, faces a salty field expected to include Captain Squire, Fonz's, Raven Power, and Royal Moro.

Rider wanted for Special Ring

The most important horse in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on Monday - likely pacesetter Special Ring - is without a rider. The only confirmed front-runner in the $500,000 turf race, Special Ring worked faster than trainer Julio Canani wanted on Tuesday (58.80 for five furlongs), but the work won't be the reason if he is defeated. More important, who will ride?

Corey Nakatani rode Special Ring last time, but remains sidelined because of injury. Eddie Delahoussaye rode him the time before, but is committed to Shoemaker starter Thady Quill. Brice Blanc was offered the mount, but chose Casey Griffin instead. Canani was expected to name a rider on Wednesday.

Canani also will start Ladies Din, runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile in 1999 and 2000. "Both times, he ran second to a champion, don't forget that," Canani said, referring to the 1999 and 2000 Shoemaker winner, Silic, whom he also trained.

Ladies Din worked a half-mile Tuesday in 46 seconds, according to Canani. The work did not make the tab. Commenting on the works of his two starters: "They both worked good. You have to tighten the screws sometimes. In this race, they take no prisoners."

The Shoemaker probables are Decarchy, Ladies Din, Irish Prize, Touch of the Blues, Casey Griffin, Special Ring, and The Tin Man.

* Trainer Laura de Seroux said Tuesday that all systems are go for Azeri and Astra, likely favorites in the Milady and Gamely, respectively. Astra is the 123-pound highweight on Monday in the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf. She won the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap in her most recent start April 20. The Gamely field, with weights, is expected to be Astra; Starine, 122; Voodoo Dancer, 119; Snow Dance, 118; Crazy Ensign, 115; and Old Money, 113.

* Grade 2 winner Starrer is nearing her first start of the year, and first since joining trainer Shirreffs's barn. Starrer, now 4, won 3 of 14 starts and earned $433,033 for owner George Krikorian while trained by David Hofmans. Starrer's most recent start was a win in the Grade 2 Bayakoa in December.

* The Shirreffs-trained Calkins Road, winner of the Snow Chief Stakes, will not start Sunday in the $100,000 California Sires Stakes because he was not made eligible at the final nomination deadline of April 30, 2001.