New Zealand-bred Final Destination won the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT) for older fillies and mares at Santa Anita Park on Monday, her second victory in two U.S. starts for owner Edmund Gann and trainer Bobby Frankel. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the 5-year-old mare won for the fifth time in 11 starts, covering the Buena Vista's one mile turf distance on a "good" turf course in 1:35.99 to win by one-half length over the French-bred Garden in the Rain. Garden in the Rain, a 6-year-old trained by Jeff Mullins and ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., was the 8-5 favorite in the field of six.Final Destination saved ground while stalking the pace of Walt's Wharf into the turn, came out three deep into the stretch to take the lead just past the eighth pole and inched away from Garden in the Rain under Espinoza's urging. Garden in the Rain also stalked the pace outsideof Final Destination and swung widest of all for the stretch run, battling gamely to the wire. Irish-bred Embassy Belle was third, 2 1/2 lengths farther back.
The stakes victory was the fifth of the Santa Anita meet for Frankel, two fewer than season leader Bob Baffert. "It got a little hairy out there, trying to get clear," said Frankel, who won several stakes with Happyanunoit, another mare bred in New Zealand. Frankel also won the 1997 Buena Vista with Media Nox. In her only previous U.S. start, Final Destination, with Espinoza up, won an allowance optional claiming event at 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on Dec. 3. Final Destination, the 9-5 second choice, carried 115 pounds Monday and returned $5.80, $3 and $2.60. Garden in the Rain paid $2.40 and $2.20. Irish-bred 5-year-old Embassy Belle, ridden by Gary Stevens, paid $2.80. (Chart, Equibase)