Valentine Dancer got up in the final strides to win the seventh running of the $105,300 Cat's Cradle Handicap by a head Sunday at Hollywood Park.Ridden by Victor Espinoza at 118 pounds, the 3-year-old filly out of In Excess covered the 7 1/2 furlongs on the main track in 1:27 4/5 to knock one-fifth of a second off the stakes record. Sent off at odds of 7-2, she paid $9.40, $4.80 and $3.60.Longshot Super High, with Tyler Baze aboard, held for second and paid $13.20 and $6.80. Cee's Valley Girl, the post time favorite at 2-1, finished third a nose behind Super High and paid $3.20 for the show."I stayed inside and got stuck down there at the three-eighths when the horse in front of me kind of slowed down," Espinoza said."So I was patient, and I think this filly has a short turn-of-foot. Then, in the middle of the turn, I got just enough room to go, and she's got a big heart. She'll go through any hole. She opened it up and got there. It worked out perfectly."Brite Betty and Super High set the pace and dueled for the lead down the backstretch, going the opening quarter in :22 1/5. Super High took command through the turn and opened up by a length into the stretch. Brite Betty dropped out while Valentine Dancer and Cee's Valley Girl closed strongly. The trio battled to the wire with Super High on the inside and Cee's Valley Girl on the outside. Valentine Dancer prevailed from between his two rivals in the final strides."A good horse. That is usually the secret," said Valentine Dancer's trainer, Craig Lewis. "She was real fit coming into the race and we just kept her happy and kept her going as good as we could and she did the rest."I think she is probably best at a mile and best on the grass but she is very versatile. She'll run on any surface."
Valentine Dancer has won five races in 15 starts, and finished in the money 11 times. The winner's share of $63,180 increased her career earnings to $318,006 for owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood.Lewis said he would most likely point her to the Sunshine Millions at Santa Anita for her next start. (Chart, Equibase)