Spice Island surged past favored Volga in the final 150 yards to capture the $150,000 Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) at 1 1/2 miles for fillies and mares on a yielding Aqueduct turf Saturday.
Ridden by Victor Carrero for owner Denlea Park Stable and trainer John Pregman Jr., the Kentucky-bred 4-year-old by Tabasco Cat won her first graded stakes race by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:23 2/5.
"She was a good investment, there is no question about it," said Pregman, who claimed her for $40,000 out of a maiden event at Monmouth Park in August of 2002.
Volga, ridden by Richard Migliore, had opened up a daylight lead in mid-stretch after shaking away from pacesetting Banyu Dewi and jockey Julie Krone, making her return to New York after a five-year absence. But Spice Island, racing off the rail while tracking the front-runners from close up in the field of 11, kicked into gear under urging from Carrero coming into the stretch to sweep by 2-1 choice Volga on the outside close to home. Banyu Dewi, the second favorite, held on for third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Volga. Mariensky ran evenly to be fourth, 4 1/2 lengths behidn the winner.
"I moved the filly at the three-eighths pole," said Carrero. "I had my eye on (Volga). She's a nice filly, and I wanted to follow her. At the quarter-pole, I got my filly outside and to the clear. She gave me good response. I hit her with the whip left-handed because she tried to get in a little."
Banyu Dewi, somewhat hard to control early, wrested the lead from Approach after an opening quarter mile of 26 seconds, and controlled the pace into the stretch while clicking off fractions of :52, 1:17 2/5 and 1:43 as Volga turned up the pressure on the final turn.
Krone, based in Southern California since returning to action in 2002, won with both of her first two mounts at Aqueduct Saturday.
Spice Island, coming off a 6 1/4-length romp in Keeneland's Dowager Oct. 19, won her third straight. It was her sixth victory in 12 starts this year, and her seventh victory in 20 races overall. The $90,000 winner's purse improved her career total to $392,656.
"She has been doing better than ever," Pregman said. "She's had a good year, but she has really picked up her game this fall. I think we've been taking her too far back. I wanted her a little closer to the pace today. It's a shame that the turf season is coming to an end up here. We'll take her to Florida and run her in the big races there this winter."
Cranford Stud bred the dark bay, who was produced by the Alysheba mare Crown of Sheba. She was purchased for $46,000 in the Keeneland September 2000 Yearling Sale.
Sent off at 7-1, Spice Island paid $16, $5.90 and $4. Volga, who won the E.P Taylor (Can-I) in her last start, returned $4 and $2.90. Banyu Dewi showed for $3.50.
Mandela was fifth, followed by Lady of the Future, Primetimevalentine, Boana, D'ohana, Meridiana and Approach.
Kronewon the third race with favored Trixie Lady ($4.40) and the sixth race with Quick Action ($9).