Girl Warrior battled along the inside to narrowly hold off the odds-on choice A.P. Adventure by a head in her stakes debut for trainer Neil Drysdale, winning the $150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. II) for 4-year-old fillies Sunday at Santa Anita Park.
Girl Warrior, a daughter of Elusive Quality
-Qhazeenah (Marju) who began her career in England, has won all three of her starts against females since transferring to Drysdale last summer for owner Anthony Speelman of London.
Victor Espinoza gave the filly a dream trip, settling behind the leaders on the inside down the backstretch, moving into contention on the far turn, and getting through along the rail in the final furlong to open a narrow lead. She captured the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:42 3/5 on a fast track.
She won under strong urging from Espinoza as A.P. Adventure, a grade I winner last year, closed in. A.P. Adventure, carrying top weight of 119 pounds, fought hard while caught four wide on the turn with Rene Douglas and couldn't quite get to the wire in time. Pacesetter Tarlow settled for third, 2 1/2 lengths behind, with Penny's Fortune finishing fourth in the field of seven.
Espinoza said he fell into the trip.
"That was not the plan. I wanted to keep her on the outside because she had never been on the inside," he said. "But the race just set up like that. I had rode the horse that was on the lead (Tarlow) before and she lugs out a little bit, so I was able to be more patient on the inside. When (Girl Warrior) turned for home, she was tough, she didn't want to get beat, I'll tell you that.
"As soon as I passed the horse on the lead, she just took off. After that she just waited for (A.P. Adventure) to come next to her. She ran great. She's unbelievable."
With Gary Stevens aboard, Tarlow opened up a daylight lead on A Song in A Minor on the clubhouse turn, carving solid fractions of :23 1/5, :47 and 1:10 3/5. She battled gamely with the first two before giving way late.
Girl Warrior's only U.S. loss came in an allowance race against males at Hollywood Park in November. After beginning her career with four losses sprinting on the grass in Great Britain for trainer Paul Cole, she has found a home on dirt for Drysdale, who won his first El Encino.
"I don't think she's going to be limited by distance," said Drysdale, who credited Espinoza for getting his filly the best trip.
The El Encino is the second leg of the La Canada series for fillies bred in 2001. Drysdale said Girl Warrior would likely go in the finale, the 1 1/8-mile La Canada (gr. II) on Feb. 12.
Shadwell Farm LLC bred Girl Warrior in Kentucky. She was a $120,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2002.
She won for the third time in eight lifetime starts and increased her earnings to $148,416.
Girl Warrior paid $10.80, $3.40 and $2.60. A.P. Adventure, who has not won in four starts since taking the Las Virgenes (gr. I) at Santa Anita 11 months ago, returned $2.40 and $2.10. Tarlow's show was $2.80.
"We'll get 'em next time," said Wally Dollase, who trains A.P. Adventure. "We had the outside post and we weren't able to take advantage of it. We lost quite a bit of ground."
He said the La Canada would also be next for A.P. Adventure.
After Penny's Fortune came Red Top, a Song in A Minor and Shake Off. Elusive Diva, second choice on the morning line, was scratched.
Also Sunday, Bobby Frankel joined the late Charlie Whittingham as the only trainers to win 800 races at Santa Anita Park. The Hall of Fame trainer accomplished the feat with La Danielle ($4.60) n the sixth race. The legendary Whittingham, who died in 1999, won 869 races at Santa Anita.