Trainer Richard Cross refers to Capricorn Belle as an Amazon. But it took Sunday's $121,280 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park before Capricorn Belle ran a race as big as she is.
Jockey Chris McCarron showed Capricorn Belle who was boss early, holes opened up for them through the backstretch and the English-bred 4-year-old hit the wire a length before Justicara to take the Dahlia before 29,046.
The win, worth $66,200 to her owner, Sheik Maktoum Al Maktoum of Dubai's free-spending Maktoum brothers, ended a frustrating year on a high note for Capricorn Belle.
Before Sunday, Capricorn Belle had won only two races this year and she had failed in eight straight stakes, her only win lately being in allowance company at Hollywood five weeks ago.
Most of the frustration had been shouldered by Luca Camani, who trained 1983 Budweiser-Arlington Million winner Tolomeo. Camani trained Capricorn Belle before she arrived in the United States, where she ran fourth in a stake at Aqueduct before a first and a seventh under Cross at Hollywood.
The Dahlia, 1 1/16 miles on the grass, could have been the right spot for a number of frustrated trainers. It included several horses capable of long slumps: Zaizafon, Auntie Betty and Exclusive Story, winless this year; and La Mimosa, who was shut out in all of 1984.
Despite this opposition, Savannah Dancer, Allen Paulson's $2.5 million yearling, was a lukewarm 8-5 favorite.
Savannah Dancer held the lead midway through the stretch, then couldn't hold off the charge from the outside and finished fourth.
Capricorn Belle, timed in 1:41 3/5, paid $14.60, $7.20 and $5.40 as the fourth betting choice. Justicara, who held second by a neck, paid $6.80 and $5.40 and Solva, a neck better than Savannah Dancer, returned $7.60.
Capricorn Belle gave McCarron his seventh stake of the season, which ends Tuesday. McCarron also won Sunday's last race for a meet-high total of 34. Assured of the meet title, he'll take today and Tuesday off before resuming action with the opening of Santa Anita Thursday.
"This was the first time I've been on this filly," McCarron said. "I got the chance to ride her because Laffit (Pincay) was committed to Justicara. The pace was slow, but she's got good tactical speed.
"When it was time to move (from seventh place on the backstretch), the spaces appeared in front of me. We had a lucky trip, because there was nobody dead in front of me at any time. In the last sixteenth, I had no trouble getting through."
Savannah Dancer was third, behind Time for a Slam and La Mimosa, in the early going. The daughter of Northern Dancer moved into second while Capricorn Belle was improving her position to fourth on the turn.
With an eighth of a mile to go, Savannah Dancer edged ahead, but Capricorn Belle was moving even faster just outside her and Solva and Justicara were also closing, Justicara being widest of all.
"My filly was rank early," Bill Shoemaker said of Savannah Dancer. "And the slow pace didn't help. She didn't get tired. We only got beat a length and a half, but we needed the race to be run a little different early in order to have a better chance."
Capricorn Belle will be retired from the track to be bred this spring. Cross' feed bills will benefit. He says the Amazon from England eats twice as much as any other horse.
Horse Racing Notes Rhett Butler II, a 3-year-old French-bred colt, was destroyed after breaking down and fracturing a leg on the far turn during Sunday's fifth race. His jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, was not seriously injured . . . Gary Stevens, who underwent shoulder and knee surgery after a training spill in late October at Santa Anita, resumes riding Tuesday. Stevens, who ranked fifth nationally in purses when he was injured, is in seventh place with $6.5 million . . . Tuesday's closing-day feature is the $100,000 Seabiscuit Stakes, but the third race on the program includes Committed, this year's European sprint champion, and Aberuschka, who ran six furlongs in 1:08 2/5 at Hollywood on Nov. 23 . . . Trainer Woody Stephens said he signed 300 copies of his biography at Hollywood Sunday. "Stephan's Odyssey will be operated on Thursday," Stephens said. "They give him a better chance of making it than they did earlier." The 3-year-old colt broke down recently during training in Florida . . . Taj Airiyadh won the Roamer Handicap Sunday at Aqueduct, giving trainer Wayne Lukas his 69th stakes win of the year. The Lukas barn has broken the record, held by Eddie Neloy and Jimmy Jones, by 28 wins . . . Apprentice Corey Black rode two more winners Sunday, giving him 15 for the meeting . . . In Sunday's other stake at Hollywood, Hy King, ridden by Pat Valenzuela, won the Roving Boy by two lengths. The 2-year-old colt won his only other start by 7 1/2 lengths two weeks ago, running for a $50,000 claiming price.