Trainer Marcelo Polanco was quite unhappy that Island Fashion wasn't given more consideration for the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old fillies in 2003 after winning a pair of grade I races and two other stakes. After beating a powerful field that included top mares Sightseek and Got Koko in Sunday's $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita, Polanco may have proved his point.
Polanco, 43, from Chile, said earlier that it "was a slap in the face" that Island Fashion was not nominated for an Eclipse Award. Asked about it again, he said, "This proves it was a slap in the face. She's something else."
Island Fashion was scratched from last week's El Encino (gr. II) to take on a much stronger field in the Santa Monica.
"The main thing with (owner Jeffrey Nielsen) was to prove that she is what we think she is," Polanco said. "Running in a grade two against 4-year-olds, we weren't going to prove nothing. Running against the best fillies in the country in a grade one, that's when you see what you have."
Island Fashion, carrying 120 pounds, caught pacesetting Buffythecenterfold in deep stretch and under left-handed urging by jockey Kent Desormeaux, the Petionville filly prevailed gamely by three-quarters of a length in an outstanding time of 1:21 1/5 for the seven furlongs.
Buffythecenterfold, ridden by Matt Garcia, held onto second by a half-length over Got Koko, who rallied from last to finish third, 31/2 lengths better than Sightseek, the 6-5 favorite in a field of six.
Island Fashion, racing off the rail, chased the early leader, Sparkling Ava, who blazed through a :21 4/5 split for the opening quarter-mile before being overtaken by Buffythecenterflold, who continued powerfully through a :44 half-mile and 1:08 2/5 for six furlongs. Island Fashion, about four lengths behind for much of the way, was three wide on the turn. The gray filly swung a bit wider into the stretch to begin her rally, motoring after Buffythecenterfold down the lane. Island Fashion got to the front past mid-stretch, but had to battle to hold off the stubborn frontrunner.
"The track is very, very fast forcing us to be contentious early," Desormeaux said. "It makes it very difficult to make up any ground on this track because the leaders are full of run right up to the end. When you tackle those leaders, they don't give in, you have to go by them with a lot of determination. That second horse didn't let us waltz by. We had to work for the lead. That race just proves that this filly has the determination to win."
Garcia said he got too much pressure from Sparkling Ava early.
"I was hoping I could shake clear of those horses and get to the front, but I got caught in a speed duel on the backside," Garcia said. "Once we got to the quarter pole I was pleased to see that the filly (Buffythecenterfold) still had go power to dig in, but it wasn't enough."
Got Koko was unhurried and wide much of the way under Alex Solis, but finished well.
Sightseek, who was carrying top weight of 122 pounds, was in good stalking position along the inside down the backstretch, swung out a bit for the drive under jockey Jerry Bailey, but lacked the needed closing punch.
The race was the first for both Got Koko and Sightseek since disappointing efforts in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.
Sightseek, who has only lost six times in 14 career starts for trainer Bobby Frankel, dropped her fifth straight at Santa Anita, where she is winless.
"She just didn't get into the race like she usually does," Bailey said. "Usually when I give the nod she will put me in behind the speed and finish them off."
Island Fashion earned $150,000 for owner Nielsen's Everest Stables Inc., who bred her. The Santa Monica was her third grade I victory and second in succession after taking the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies Dec. 27 at Santa Anita. She won the prestigious Alabama (gr. I) at Saratoga in August, and also collected first-prize money in the Delaware Oaks (gr. III) and the the $250,000 WinStar Oaks at Sunland last year. She won more than $1.1 million in 2003.
Unraced at 2, she improved her career record to 5-1-0 in 11 starts while banking $1,262,970.
The second choice in the field, Island Fashion paid $5, $3.40 and $2.40. Buffythecenterfold, who improved off her third-place finish in the La Brea, returned $6.80 and $3. Got Koko's show was $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $25.20.
"I believe post position (number one) beat her," trainer Mel Stute said of Buffythecenterfold. "I definitely don't think there's been a (number) one win going seven-eighths in two years that I can remember. But I might be wrong, too. You always look for an excuse but I guarantee you if I had been on the outside they wouldn't have beat us. She doesn't give up. She's something special."
Princess V. and Sparkling Ava completed the order of finish. Star Parade scratched.