Gary Tanaka's multiple graded stakes winner Star Parade handled Pesci early and Quero Quero late to register a convincing 3 1/2-length triumph in the $228,450 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Sunday.
The Argentine-bred 5-year-old dark bay mare, a slight 9-5 favorite ridden by Victor Espinoza, won for the third time in four starts at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Milady, which she covered in a time of 1:41 4/5.
The expected pacesetter in the field of five, Pesci, ridden by Mike Smith, allowed Star Parade to get the early lead, it appeared, and the daughter of Parade Marshall took full advantage while racing on the inside of her rival, setting moderate fractions of :23 3/5, :46 1/5 and 1:09 4/5. Pesci was content to prompt the pace but applied only slight pressure to the far turn when Quero Quero, ridden by Javier Santiago, loomed up on the inside.
Coming out of the turn, Quero Quero, a turf-favoring filly trying the dirt for only the second time in her career, poked her head in front. That seemed to send a wake-up call to Star Parade, who fought back on the outside of Quero Quero under frantic urging from Espinoza. Pesci fell back a bit in the stretch run as the other two went on. But near the sixteenth pole, Star Parade took command and won going away.
"I wasn't so sure she was going to be on the lead," said winning trainer Darrell Vienna. "I know that she is very game and she has never hesitated to give her all. I was a little concerned (at the quarter pole), but I certainly wasn't ready to give up."
A tired Quero Quero fought back when challenged for second by Pesci and held on by a head. Victory Encounter, carrying top weight of 119 pounds, fell way off the pace for Alex Solis and revved up for a reprise of the late charge that produced her surprising win over Star Parade and Adoration in the Vanity (gr. I) May 9. But she never got into full stride this time, and settled for fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Tangle finished last. Summer Wind Dancer and Lady Thatcher scratched.
Star Parade had lost her last three starts, all grade Is, finishing second once and third twice. Vienna said she had tied up a couple of days prior to the Vanity, which probably accounted for her performance. She broke a step slowly and was under pressure to keep up with Adoration through average fractions. In addition, the 1 1/8-mile Vanity is at a distance Star Parade has never won at. She ended up third, beaten by a widening 3 1/2 lengths.
Vienna gave her some time to recover from that race and she worked five furlongs over the Hollywood Park training track in 1:00 handily July 7 to indicate she was ready to flash her old speed.
Star Parade picked up her first win since the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita Feb. 16. She improved to 2-2-1 in five starts this year, all in grade I company in Southern California. Earning $125,670 for the sixth win in a 16-race career, she has now banked $641,782.
The winner paid $5.80, $3.40 and $2.40. Quero Quero returned $5.20 and $3 and completed a $42.60 exacta. Pesci was $2.60 to show.