Spring Star, a lightly-raced 5-year-old mare, won her 2004 debut over a field that included seven other graded stakes winners, turning in a sharp performance in the $110,900 Wilshire Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Hollywood Park turf Sunday.
The French-bred daughter of Danehill, ridden by Alex Solis, collared Fudge Fatale in the stretch, taking command before the eight pole and skipping away to a 2 1/2-length victory. Quero Quero rallied down the lane in the middle of the course from the rear of the nine-horse field to nudge Dublino by a nose for second. Dublino, a narrow second choice in the betting at odds of 2-1, was forced to wait for room on the inside before splitting horses in the stretch.
The final time for the one-mile turf test was a swift 1:33 2/5, four-fifths off the track record.
Spring Star was extremely reluctant to load into her outside starting stall, delaying the start for a couple of minutes. She finally went in after handlers put blinders on her temporarily.
"She's got a bad temper," winning trainer Richard Mandella said of her gate antics. "But she's not usually that way."
He said Spring Star was uspet by a flock of ducks on the infield when she was on track to stretch her legs Sunday morning. "She's been mad about it all day," Mandella said.
Spring Star was quickly into stride and settled in right behind Fudge Fatale, trailing by about two lengths on the backstretch through fractions of :23 2/5 and :46 /5. Spring Star turned up the pressure on the turn on the outside and had Fudge Fatale's measure in early stretch. She pounced away and maintained a comfortable lead as Quero Quero and Dublino, the 2003 Wilshire winner, rallied for the minor placings.
Both Dimitrova, the 9-5 favorite who won last year's Flower Bowl (gr. I) and American Oaks, and Dahlia (gr. IIT) winner Katdogawn were in striking position in the stretch but did not fire. They finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Makeup Artist, Fudge Fatale, Funhouse and Esmay completed the order of finish.
Spring Star won for the third time in six United States outings for owner/breeders Wertheimer & Frere. She was a group II winner in France, where she raced through July 2002. Her last victory came in September's Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Del Mar. She'd been on the sidelines since Dec. 29.
"When she thinks right, she'll turn out to be a top-notch mare," Mandella said. "If you can get her to think right."
Spring Star, who is out of the Irish River mare L'rlandaise, improved to 5-1-4 in 12 lifetime starts with earnings of more than $320,336.
Sent off as the 6-1 fourth choice, she paid $15.20, $8 and $4.80. Quero Quero, ridden by Victor Espinoza, returned $9.40 and $4. Dublino, with Jose Valdivia aboard, was $3 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $145.80.