Star Billing, advancing along the inside for Victor Espinoza, edged away from front-running Summer Soiree for her first grade I victory -- a 10-1 upset in the $250,000 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park Nov. 25 (VIDEO).
With her half-length triumph, movie theater chain owner George Krikorian's 3-year-old homebred daughter of Dynaformer reversed the order of the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) this summer when Summer Soiree edged Star Billing by a half-length. The victory was the third on the day for trainer John Shirreffs, who earned his first Matriarch crown.
"It was great to finally see her get the grade I," Krikorian said. "She's come close before. I'm very proud of her."
Espinoza guided Star Billing to victory with a ground-saving trip, using left-handed urging in the final furlong to boot her home. The final time for the one-mile event for fillies and mares was 1:35.45 over firm turf.
Star Billing became the sixth 3-year-old to win the Matriarch in 30 renewals.
Odds-on choice Never Retreat finished third.
Up In Time dropped jockey Martin Garcia after clipping heels coming out of the final turn. Neither appeared to be injured in the incident and stewards made no changes when they ruled the videotape was inconclusive.
Defending Matriarch champion Gypsy's Warning, one of three starters in the field sent out from Maryland by trainer Graham Motion, finished fifth. Motion's other runners were runner-up Summer Soiree and Unbridled Humor, who ran fourth.
Star Billing was overlooked in the wagering following her faltering sixth-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct. 15. The bay filly picked up her first victory since the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) over the same course and distance as the Matriarch in her second start May 7.
“She’s run really well on this course,’’ said Shirreffs, whose two other wins Friday came for owners Jerry and Ann Moss. “The track was a little soft, a little loose for her at Keeneland. She didn’t handle it very well.
“She hasn’t had things go her way a few times, but she’s obviously really a nice filly.’’
The winner is out of the Thunder Gulch mare Topliner.
Eight contested the Matriarch with Never Retreat, trained by Chris Block, gaining heavy favoritism off back-to-back victories in the Canadian Stakes (Can-IIT) at Woodbine in September and the First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland last month.
Summer Soiree, as expected, outsprinted her rivals for the early lead along the inside and posted relatively soft quarter-mile fractions of :24.82, :48.97, and 1:12.60. Quiet Oasis, to her outside, and Unbridled Humor, tucked in just behind the pacesetter, were tracking with Never Retreat stalking on the outside in fourth. Star Billing got to the rail quickly for Espinoza and settled toward the rear of the pack.
With Gabriel Saez letting her out a notch, Summer Soiree aggressively tried to leave the field behind rounding the final turn and she took control in the stretch while leaving the rail open. Challenged past the furlong marker as Star Billing progressed on the inside, Summer Soiree battled back gamely. But in deep stretch Star Billing put her head in front and inched away in the last strides.
The victory was the first in a grade I at Hollywood Park for Espinoza since he captured the 2009 Hollywood Derby with The Usual Q. T.
“She runs pretty well at any track … except Keeneland,’’ said Espinoza, who won two other races on the card to give him his second triple of 2011 at Hollywood.
“When I rode her last time there she didn’t handle the track at all. I knew you could just forget about that race. She was really unbelievable today. When I got alongside (Summer Soiree), my filly got a little bit intimidated, but I hit her left-handed one time and she just took off. It worked out perfectly.’’
Seeking to give Motion his second grade I win at Hollywood Park in less than a week after an easy score by Sanagas in the Hollywood Turf Cup Nov. 19, Summer Soiree was a clear second by 2 1/4 lengths.
"I tried to open up a little bit on the turn, but these are good horses," Saez said of the runner-up. "She was trying to come back on. She galloped out very strongly."
Never Retreat rallied mildly for third under Julien Leparoux after failing to handle the final turn very well. She finished a head better than Unbridled Humor. A Matriarch win would have been the sixth graded victory this year for the 6-year-old Smart Strike mare.
Star Billing ran her career mark to 3-2-1 in seven starts with earnings of $355,067. The Kentucky-bred has been especially effective on the Hollywood Park lawn, winning twice while never finishing worse than third in four tries.
Under weight-for-age conditions, she carried 120 pounds and paid $23.40, $9, $3.80 as the fifth choice. Team Valor International's Summer Soiree, a four-time winner during the 2011 campaign for Motion, returned $7 and $4 and rounded out a $143.20 exacta. Team Block's Never Retreat, sent off at 7-10 odds, was $2.40 to show.