Gary Tanaka's hard-hitting Star Parade suffered through a nine-race losing streak last year, but has now won her last two starts on the dirt after a two-length victory in the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) for older fillies and mares at Santa Anita Saturday.
The 7-year-old Argentine-bred mare went over the $1 million mark in career earnings. Star Parade won the Santa Maria two years ago but finished last in 2005 during her tailspin.
But Star Parade has turned it around for trainer Darrell Vienna. She won the Bayakoa (gr. II) by four lengths at Hollywood Park Dec. 11. After running 10th on the turf in the San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. II) one month later in a tune-up, she was ready to go Saturday.
Vienna said he and Tanaka are aiming for the $500,000 Apple Blossom (gr. I) at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park on April 8.
Star Parade prompted the pacesetter Heavenly Humor while three wide on the outside, taking a short lead in upper stretch and inching away from the runner-up Proposed while completing the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:42 1/5 under strong urging from jockey Martin Pedroza.
"She's definitely one of the best mares I've ever ridden," said Pedroza, who has guided Star Parade in her last four starts. "I got the mount on her because she's the kind of mare you have to keep riding. Sometimes, she acts like maybe she's all done but, if you keep after her, she'll give you a lot more."
Heavenly Humor set a fast pace – :22 4/5, :46 1/5 and 1:10 1/5 – before tiring coming off the final turn.
Proposed, the 17-10 favorite in the field of seven, was coming off a 2 1/2-length win in the El Encino (gr. II) Jan. 15 but found Star Parade too much to handle. After racing in fourth along the inside for Patrick Valenzuela, she came out to challenge in the stretch and finished willingly, 2 3/4 lengths in front of the third-place finisher Hollywood Story. Healthy Addiction, Heavenly Humor, Chilean-bred Musica Si, and Skipping Court completed the order of finish.
"She picked it up real nice when I asked her around the far turn, and she finished well," Valenzuela said. "We just couldn't make up enough ground on the winner."
Star Parade, a daughter of Parade Marshal, improved to 8-7-4 in 29 starts with earnings of $1,085,419. The ultra-tough mare has faced grade I or grade II company in her last 18 starts. She especially loves the 1 1/16-mile distance, where she sports a record of 4-3-1 in 13 tries and earnings of more than $890,000. She has won three of six on the Santa Anita main track with two seconds.
"She always shows a tremendous amount of talent training. She's never trained poorly ... but sometimes it just doesn't happen," Vienna said of earlier troubles. "I told (Pedroza), 'You ride her like you own her. Just get her to relax and don't fight her. If it's on the lead, if it's behind horses, I don't care. Just don't fight her.' And he didn't. He rode her perfectly."
Star Parade paid $7.80, $3.80, and $2.60 as the second choice, combining with Proposed ($3.60, $2.40) for a $24.80 exacta. Hollywood Story, still looking for her first win away from Hollywood Park, was a late running third, paying $2.60.
John Shirreffs trained both the second and third-place finishers.
Seafree and Sharp Lisa, both entered for Sunday's La Canada (gr. II), were scratched.