06/12/2008 11:00PM

Two try to reinvent themselves

Benoit & Associates
Dixie Chatter's Norfolk win last fall made him a top 2-year-old, but he has made only one start this year.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Dixie Chatter and Two Step Salsa face crossroads Sunday in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park.

Dixie Chatter was a top 2-year-old last year; Two Step Salsa is a top sprinter this year. When they face six others in the $100,000 Affirmed, they will try to reinvent themselves - Dixie Chatter as a 3-year-old; Two Step Salsa as a distance horse.

A win last fall in the Grade 1 Norfolk at 1 1/16 miles put Dixie Chatter at the top of his class, but after four starts his campaign stalled due to illness and a bone bruise. He finally returned last month with a third-place finish in a sprint, and benefits Sunday from the longer distance.

Two Step Salsa, meanwhile, enters the Affirmed already on top of his game. His gate-to-wire win over Dixie Chatter last month in the Grade 3, seven-furlong Lazaro Barrera Stakes was his third from four starts, all sprints. The Affirmed can answer the question - is Two Step Salsa merely a sprinter?

The field also includes Grade 3-placed Tres Borrachos, who broke slowly and lost his chance in the Preakness; Trevor's Clever, upset winner of the $76,000 Alydar Stakes; Ez Dreamer, a 4-for-11 minor stakes winner; Bingham, adding blinkers after finishing fourth in the Alydar; and Wind's Legacy.

The Affirmed leads to the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes on July 12, a $350,000 race at 1 1/8 miles that is expected to include Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, Lexington winner Behindatthebar, and lightly raced Madeo.

Before he is considered for the Swaps, Two Step Salsa must stretch his speed under Martin Pedroza. Julio Canani trains Two Step Salsa, who drew the rail and faces an immediate pace challenge from front-runner Tres Borrachos. The race actually sets up for Dixie Chatter, who can win if he is good enough.

Dixie Chatter had been off nearly eight months when he returned in the Barrera. Racing opposite his preferred style, he pressed the pace and tired to third.

"He doesn't want to be that close; he was fresh," jockey Richard Migliore said. "He did the same thing last year in the Del Mar Futurity," ending up fifth, "and then won the Norfolk. It's the same pattern."

Now that Dixie Chatter has had a prep, Migliore and trainer Richard Mandella expect him to be more easily rated.