In spite of coming out in the stretch, Wertheimer Farm's front-running Spring Star held on gamely between Magic Mission and Garden in the Rain to register a neck score in the $191,000 Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares on the Del Mar grass.
Favored Spring Star, a 4-year-old daughter of Danehill ridden by Alex Solis, survived a stewards' review of the stretch run. Magic Mission, on the outside, appeared to be bothered, jerking her head in response to Solis' whipping of Spring Star with his right hand in deep stretch. Magic Mission, with Corey Nakatani aboard, finished a nose ahead of Garden in the Rain and Julie Krone. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile turf event was a stakes-record 1:40 3/5.
Solis said afterward that he did not strike the runner-up.
"I never hit her," he said. "I would have felt it if I had and I didn't feel anything."
Nakatani said he's certain Magic Mission was struck.
"I know that's what happened," he said. "My filly wants to win, but you can't put her in front too soon. She eases up. So I'm timing it just right to make the lead and she gets hit."
Spring Star, trained by Richard Mandella, won her first graded stake in the United States. She was making her fifth start – and third stake appearance – since transferring from France a year ago. She previously won the Prix de Sandringham (Fr-II), defeating Sea of Showers, at Chantilly in June 2002.
The French-bred bay broke on top in the field of five and controlled the pace through moderate fractions of :24 3/5, :48 2/5, 1:11 4/5 and 1:34 4/5.
"She's a nice filly," Solis said of Spring Star. "She's difficult to work with, but Richard has done an excellent job of getting her to settle down and get her mind on her business."
Magic Mission, racing last while off the rail down the backstretch, moved up on the turn and came on strong in the stretch. But the Neil Drysdale-trained mare, a narrow winner of the Royal Heroine (Gr. IIIT) July 5 in her last start at Hollywood Park, could not get by Spring Star. Garden in the Rain saved ground behind the pacesetter and found room at the rail when Spring Star came out in the stretch, just missing the place spot.
"I had to wait too long," Krone, the rider on Garden in the Rain, said. "She has a quick turn of foot and I saved ground with her, but it wasn't enough."
Spring Star earned $120,000 to nearly double her career total to $241,119 with an overall record of 10-4-1-3.
Sent off at 3-2, Spring Star paid $5, $2.80 and $2.20. Magic Mission returned $3 and $2.20. Garden in the Rain's show was $2.40. The $2 exacta was worth $12.80.