01/22/2004 12:00AM

Valentine Dancer on top of her game


ARCADIA, Calif. - Valentine Dancer seems to thrive on racing. Last year, she made 14 starts, won five races, and earned $312,846 throughout Southern California.

At the end of the season, she was in top form, winning the Ramser and Cat's Cradle handicaps and finishing third in the California Cup Distance Handicap.

On Saturday, Valentine Dancer is one of the top California-breds entered in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf for Cal-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita.

A win would nearly double her career earnings of $318,006 for owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood.

"There is no secret with her," trainer Craig Lewis said. "She's a game filly."

Run over 1 1/8 miles, the Filly and Mare Turf has drawn 11, including top California-breds Moscow Burning and Summer Wind Dancer and leading Florida-breds Atlantic Ocean, Fencelineneighbor, and Lost Appeal.

Valentine Dancer drew the rail and will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela. Lewis insists the post will not lead to a change in tactics - Valentine Dancer will remain a stalker.

"There doesn't look like there'll be a lot of blazing speed," Lewis said. "She'll be forwardly placed."

A victory Dec. 14 in the Cat's Cradle Handicap at 7 1/2 furlongs on dirt at Hollywood Park left Lewis impressed. It came after a third in the California Cup Distance Handicap, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf on Nov. 8.

"I think she's a little better on turf," Lewis said. "She showed a lot of courage in her last race the way she came between fillies."

Moscow Burning beat Valentine Dancer in the California Cup Distance Handicap. Claimed for $25,000 in August, Moscow Burning finished fourth in the Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20.

"She looked at the top of the stretch like she would win it," trainer Jim Cassidy said. "No one gave her much of a chance, but I thought she ran great. I'll be very disappointed if she doesn't win."

Atlantic Ocean won the Sunshine Millions Oaks last January at Santa Anita but has lost her last seven races. She was last of 10 in the La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 27.

"It was a disaster," trainer Bob Baffert said. "They were walking on the front end."

Last summer, Atlantic Ocean ran well on turf, placing in three stakes and finishing fifth in the Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 24.

Baffert said Atlantic Ocean was unable to breathe in the final furlong of the Del Mar Oaks, where she went from second to fifth. "She was in a spot to win," he said.

Atlantic Ocean underwent a procedure to aid her breathing in late summer, Baffert said. Her turf form includes a neck loss in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

In addition to the strong team of local horses, two shippers from Florida have excellent credentials.

All the Honor, a front-runner, has won her last three starts on turf, including the Auld Lang Syne Stakes at Calder on Dec. 31.

Lost Appeal, a closer, won two stakes at Calder last year and was third in the Grade 2 La Prevoyante Stakes on Dec. 27.