SANTA ANITA : Result Speaks Loudest as Unbeaten Key Phrase Wins the Santa Monica

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Super Bowl teams belong to California, and so do the nation's top two female sprinters.

Soviet Problem already has displayed her talent, losing narrowly to Cherokee Run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Key Phrase looks as if she could be every bit as good.

Remaining perfect in five starts, Key Phrase earned her first graded stakes victory Monday at Santa Anita, dominating her eight rivals in the $160,600 Santa Monica Handicap.

Never seriously challenged in any of her races, the 4-year-old Flying Paster filly went directly to the front from the inside under Chris Antley, then improved her position from there.

At the end of her 1:22 4/5 seven-eighths journey, the 3-2 favorite, while coupled with sixth-place finisher Pirate's Revenge, had six lengths on 22-1 shot Flying In The Lane. Marina Park, the 5-2 second choice, was fourth, a half-length behind Desert Stormer.

The Grade I victory was a nice lift for trainer Ron Ellis and owners Marty and Pam Wygod after their Twice The Vice was the beaten favorite for the second consecutive time in Sunday's El Encino.

"I told someone the other day that we haven't seen her best yet," Ellis said. "She hasn't really been challenged at the eighth pole. She's really special, and I don't think she's peaked yet."

After Key Phrase won her first three starts last spring, Ellis decided to put her away for more than seven months rather than tackle an exceptional class of 3-year-old fillies, specifically, Lakeway, who is starting back after a couple of setbacks, and the now-retired Sardula.

"It didn't make sense, and I thought they (Lakeway and Sardula) would have a hard campaign," Ellis said. "I thought she would get better with age, so I gave her time off to have her ready for her 4-year-old campaign."

A distance of ground could be in Key Phrase's future, although Ellis doesn't have definite plans for her.

Wherever she goes next, Antley wants to remain aboard. All he had to do Monday was guide her in the right direction.

"Wow, what else can you say?" Antley said. "Her ability is just unreal. Ron just told me going in, 'Just break like you're the only horse in the race. It doesn't matter who goes. Just ride her with confidence, a long hold and don't ask her for anything early.'

"That's what I did, and it was like the only horse in the race. How good is she? Well, she's five for five and I don't want to jinx anything."

Flying In The Lane, who usually does her best running on the lead, came from off the pace for second. The disappointments in the Santa Monica were Tricky Code and Arches Of Gold, who finished ninth and last, respectively.

"She didn't like the track," said trainer Gary Jones of Tricky Code, the 5-1 third choice. "She trained too well to run that bad. It had to be the track."

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Slew Of Damascus, a well-beaten fourth by Nancys French Fry in the William P. Kyne Handicap in his last start at Bay Meadows, will be shipped south today and run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita.

This will be the first start for the 7-year-old gelding at Santa Anita. He was set to run in the San Antonio Handicap last year but broke through the gate and had to be scratched.

The 1 1/16 mile race, the first prep for the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap in March, is also expected to attract Best Pal, Nancys French Fry, College Town, Tossofthecoin, Del Mar Dennis and possibly Powis Castle.

Horse Racing Notes

The track was labeled good Monday. . . . Eddie Delahoussaye's victory on 4-5 favorite Strategist in Monday's seventh race was his first since Jan. 1, ending an 0-for-27 slump. . . . Supremo, scheduled to run in Friday's San Miguel Stakes, will miss the race because of a bruised foot. . . . Pat Valenzuela was suspended five days beginning Thursday for an incident in Saturday's San Fernando Stakes. Riding Luthier Fever, Valenzuela was cited by the stewards for "altering course without sufficient clearance entering the clubhouse turn." . . . Trainer Daniel (Speedy) Smithwick, whose main client is Jack Kent Cooke's Elmendorf Farm, will leave California and move his stable to Kentucky on Feb. 1. Smithwick, who has trained locally for three years, earned his biggest victory with Zignew in the 1994 San Fernando Stakes.

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