After only a half-mile of the 1 1/8-mile Hollywood Oaks, trainer Gary Jones was smiling. His 3-year-old filly, Lakeway, was in second place, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of archrival Sardula in third, and the pace of 46 4/5 seconds was slow.
"I was very confident," Jones said. "The spot we were in, I had a hunch we were going to win."
From his vantage point, Brian Mayberry, Sardula's trainer, saw the $205,000 race slipping away. Opening half-miles of under 45 seconds have been routine during Sardula's career, but she wasn't doing that Sunday.
"When you have small fields, strange things can happen," Mayberry said. "I thought we'd be pressing Lakeway early, but the other filly got the jump on us and we never could catch her. When we fell behind, I had a lot of concern, and that concern was right. But that's horse racing."
Lakeway's only loss was by a head to Sardula in the Kentucky Oaks two months ago, but she's responded with two record-setting performances since then, including Sunday's 4 1/2-length victory in a stakes-record 1:46 4/5 for the Hollywood Oaks. On June 12, Lakeway covered the same distance in 1:46 2/5, the fastest-ever running of the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park.
Sardula finished second, 14 lengths ahead of Fancy 'N Fabulous, and it was a long time before Sportful Snob, the only other starter, reached the wire. After leading for a half-mile, she finished last, beaten by 39 1/2 lengths.
Sent off an odds-on favorite for the sixth time, Lakeway paid $3 for $2 and earned $120,000 for owner-breeder Mike Rutherford as the daughter of Seattle Slew and Milliardaire racked up her sixth victory. Lakeway chopped three-fifths of a second off the stakes record, which was set by Tipping Time in 1969 and equaled by Fran's Valentine in 1985. She was only a fifth of a second off the track record, which was set by The Wicked North, a 5-year-old, when he won the Californian last month. The Wicked North carried 120 pounds, one less than Lakeway's impost for the Hollywood Oaks.
Lakeway had not even cooled out Sunday when Rutherford and Jones were suggesting a possible trip to Saratoga for the $750,000 Travers on Aug. 20. Some of the top 3-year-old colts in the country will be running there, including Holy Bull and Tabasco Cat, winner of two-thirds of this year's Triple Crown.
"This is the best 3-year-old filly to come along in years and years and years," Jones said. "But we've got to prove it one more time. I've got an owner that likes to try that. I've never had one like this. She's something else."
Kent Desormeaux has ridden Lakeway in all her races. Jones said there were no specific pre-race instructions.
"I'm not going to take any credit whatsoever," Desormeaux said. "She's phenomenal. Here she goes up against the best 3-year-old filly in the country and she annihilates her. I just hung on. I can't even explain how easy she goes. It felt just like the (1992) Santa Anita Handicap, the day Best Pal just galloped."
Sardula, who went off at 13-10, was beaten for the third time in nine starts, the other two losses coming last year against Phone Chatter, the champion 2-year-old filly.
"She just got outrun today," jockey Eddie Delahoussaye said after Sunday's race. "I didn't want to go head-up with the leaders, so I eased her back, and she relaxed well. But that other filly, she was just cruising in front of us. My filly made a run around the turn, but the last eighth of a mile, she didn't kick on anymore. Don't take anything away from the winner."
Before the Kentucky Oaks, Lakeway's training was interrupted by temporary lameness and other problems. Rutherford said Sunday it probably was unwise to run her, even though she barely missed running down Sardula in the stretch.
"The way Lakeway ran today," Mayberry said, "I guess there might have been something to what Gary (Jones) was saying about all his training problems in Kentucky. But it (the rivalry) is still one to one, the way I see it."
Horse Racing Notes
Besides the Travers, the other option for Lakeway is staying within her division and running against fillies at Saratoga in the $200,000 Alabama Stakes on Aug. 13. . . . Lakeway races with Lasix, the bleeders' medication, but because of New York rules, she was not treated with the diuretic in winning the Mother Goose. . . . Lakeway also set a stakes record when she won the Las Virgenes at Santa Anita in February. . . . The only time she has been more than 9-10 odds in any race was when she went off at 13-10, the second choice behind Inside Information, in the Mother Goose.
Since 1989, Kent Desormeaux and Eddie Delahoussaye have won all but one of the Hollywood Oaks. Delahoussaye has won three, Desormeaux two and Gary Stevens one. The other victory for Desormeaux was aboard Pacific Squall in 1992. . . . This was Gary Jones' first victory in the stake. . . . Alex Solis, virtually ensured of the Hollywood Park riding title, won three races Sunday, giving him 74 for the meet.
. . . Delahoussaye also rode three winners Sunday. . . . After three consecutive seconds, Silver Music returned to the winner's circle for the first time in more than three months, winning the Bold Reason Handicap under Chris Antley.