Spain made a case for herself for 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award honors with an upset win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) only to be trumped three weeks later when Surfside convincingly defeated males in the Clark Handicap (gr. II). A Thoroughbred Corporation homebred, Spain put in some last-minute campaigning Saturday, defeating reigning 2-year-old champion Chilukki in the $200,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. Under Victor Espinoza, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Spain completed the seven furlongs in 1:22.27 on the fast main track, three-quarter lengths ahead of Cover Gal. Serenita came home third, followed by Chilukki, Queenie Belle, and Penny Blues.
Spain was last of six after an opening quarter-mile run by a pacesetting Cover Gal in :22.90, with Chilukki racing patiently in fourth. Cover Gal kicked clear on a one-length lead over Serenita after a half in :45.42. Spain had moved up to fourth at this point, a half-length behind Chilukki. After six furlongs, Serenita led by a half-length over Cover Gal with Spain still fourth, just over a length off the lead. In the final furlong, Cover Gal fought back to overtake Serenita but could not withstand the late charge of Spain.
"I thought she was going to be a little closer to the other horses," said Espinoza. "She broke nice and relaxed today. I wanted to try to go to the outside, after a half-mile everybody was squeezing to the inside. I had to move a little bit, she took the bridle and as soon as she grabbed it I got position to the outside. I had to work a little bit too hard, at the three-eighths pole I had to ride her very, very hard. She was not cooperating too much when we turned for home. She didn't want to change leads so I had to help her a little bit today, that was my only chance. I crossed my fingers. But as soon as she changed leads I knew I could win the race."
The win was Spain's fifth in 13 starts on the year and sixth in 19 career starts. The daughter of Thunder Gulch -- Drina, by Regal and Royal, won four stakes on the campaign. Besides the Breeders' Cup and La Brea wins, she won the Monmouth Park Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II) and Turfway Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II). She earned $120,000 for Saturday's win.
As for Chilukki, jockey Gary Stevens explained: "She didn't do much running today. She didn't show her usual speed, she was very quiet going to the gate and I was hoping it was a good sign. Obviously it wasn't. She was just very lethargic throughout the race. I had to start riding her early and we really had no excuse. I was surprised she wasn't taking me into the race a little more."
With Chilukki finishing off the board, prices ballooned in show pool. Spain returned $9, $6, and $9.40. Cover Gal paid $10.20 and $14.60. Serenita, the third choice at just under 4-1, paid $15.80 to show. The $1 exacta paid $39.80. (Chart, Equibase