Hollywood Park Report (Cont.)

Continued from part 1

Gourmet Feast

It was a moment of tenderness and sweet reflection. Pico Perdomo smoothed his hand across the sleek, seal-brown coat of Gourmet Girl, his eyes, his voice betraying emotion.

"Oh, you can't imagine. She's a sweetheart, she's a sweetheart," the trainer said in his gentle Uruguayan accent. "One in a million. She, I think, is the kind of horse that maybe many trainers can train for 40 or 50 years and never have a chance to have a horse like that. I feel lucky and blessed to have her."

Most people would. Dwarfed in recent years by monsters like Manistique and Riboletta, the 6-year-old daughter of Cee's Tizzy has truly been a monument to consistency for the Perdomo barn. Her earnings have reached nearly $1.2-million, a fact which flies in the face of her mere $3,500 auction price tag. She's always faced the best, and she's held her own along the way. But there's no doubt about it now. Gourmet Girl's the best she's ever been.

"The blinkers are the difference now," her trainer explained. "All along, all the jockeys that she's had mentioned to me, 'Pico, maybe she's going to need blinkers.' But I never wanted to do that because she ran so good, so consistent. Sometimes people try to improve something that's not broken, and they try to fix it up. I don't like that."

It was a nail-biting defeat, however, in Hollywood's Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) last December, that sold Perdomo on the notion. With her new equipment intact, Gourmet Girl has simply become a terror. After stiff-arming an all-star cast in April's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), Gourmet Girl came back with another smasher on June 30, pounding Lazy Slusan by five lengths in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap (gr. I).

Detractors were out in full force for the Vanity. Most figured Gourmet Girl's 12-week layoff alone would be too much to overcome. They said she couldn't win off just three works, that her 0-for-4 record at nine furlongs spoke for itself.

Ha. Gourmet Girl simply grabbed the lead at the break, galloped under zero pressure for six furlongs, then waved goodbye at the top of the stretch. With Gary Stevens a virtual passenger, Gourmet Girl stopped the clock in 1:49.21. Lazy Slusan, seeking her third grade I of the year, finished a length and a half ahead of Seterah.

Perdomo is quick to credit owner Gary Tanaka for his patience as well as groom Salvador Paez, who's been with Gourmet Girl since she first set foot in the barn as a 2-year-old. That was back in 1997. She's practically a part of the family now.

"She's very smart," he said. "And the good thing with her is I know her so much, she lets you know more or less what she likes to do. We can read her -- the way she eats or the way she takes care of herself, the way she's training, the way she likes to do things."

Right now, Gourmet Girl simply likes to win.