There seemed a strong likelihood of a speed duel in Saturday's $205,150 Milady Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park, but outsider Andujar never allowed it to happen, simply running the rest of the field into the ground.
Andujar was making his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill after the 4-year-old filly was purchased recently by Paul Reddam and Mark Schlessinger. She won her last two races for Julio Canani after being transferred to the U.S. from France for the 2005 campaign. She was winless in five starts in Europe.
Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Andujar, carrying 117 pounds in her United States stakes debut, set fast splits for the 1 1/16-mile distance – :23, :45 4/5, 1:09 4/5 – but kept on going after opening up a daylight lead on the far turn. The 7-1 outsider won by seven lengths over the 3-2 favorite Hollywood Story in an excellent time of 1:41 2/5.
"I knew she was good, but I didn't realize she was that good," Nakatani said after riding Andujar for the first time. "And she has gears despite being that big. At the start, Gary Stevens' filly (Alphabet Kisses) broke out and hit her hard right in the rear quarter. After that, I just had her cruising, cruising, cruising. They came to me, and I just let her out a notch, let her catch a breather, then turning for home I let her out again. And, wow, she is something else. She could be any kind."
In her first try on dirt at Hollywood Park April 28 at 1 1/16 miles, the daughter of Quiet American
beat an allowance field by 10 1/2 lengths.
O'Neill said, "A bloodstock agent approached us about her, and anyone who was here that day she won that allowance race just had to be like 'holy mackerel.' You just don't see horses win like that. Even though it was only a first-condition allowance, she won it in a manner that was just scary. And so when someone approached us, it's nice to have a guy like Mr. Paul Reddam who can step up to the plate. So we huddled up and got a bid over there, and to make a long story short we got it done.
"For the amount of money Paul paid, we were definitely hoping she'd be able to step up to this," O'Neill added. "But you never know. I was trying not to show it, but I was very anxious for this race to come and go, and just so glad it ended up the way it did. Because if she didn't win today ... well, people would say we probably overpaid for it. I think today sort of validated her. She's a filly who, if we get lucky at all, could be top in her category whenever the Breeders' Cup is."
Saturday, Andujar broke with determination to head Star Parade and Alphabet Kisses for the early lead and soon had the pace all to herself on the backstretch. Hollywood Story, who was coming off an impressive come-from-behind 2 1/2-length victory in the Hawthorne Handicap (gr. III), trailed the field for Victor Espinoza but appeared to be getting the kind of splits that would set her up for a strong stretch run. However by the time Hollywood Story was into full stride at the head of the stretch, Andujar was long gone.
Andujar, who won $127,290 Saturday, has now captured three of four in the U.S. this year with earnings of $193,090. The bay filly earned $4,603 in France.
Hollywood Story, who carried top weight of 121 pounds, finished second by 2 1/2 lengths, followed by Star Parade, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., a half-length in front of Alphabet Kisses.
"The winner went to the lead by herself, and that makes it all the harder to catch her," Espinoza said. "Especially with the track playing to speed lately. My horse ran really good actually. She was the only one closing from behind. It might have been different if someone had run with the winner early."
Andjuar paid $16.80, $6.40 and $4. Hollywood Story returned $3 and $2.40. Star Parade, who was seeking a repeat of last year's Milady victory, was $2.80 to show.
After Alphabet Kisses came Santa Candida, Siphon Honey and House of Fortune. Festival scratched.