Trainer Ben Cecil likes the idea of going into a stakes race unannounced. "That's when my horses seem to do their best," he said.
The low profile for Squeak and the 3-year-old filly's comfort level on the rain-soaked, yielding turf course at Hollywood Park paid off Sunday. In last place after the first half-mile, and no better than next to last with a half-mile to run, Squeak and jockey Alex Solis came between horses at the head of the stretch to win the $700,000 Matriarch by six lengths, the biggest winning margin in the 18-year history of the stake.
"No one mentioned my horse before the race," Cecil said. "You look at the list of the top 10 grass fillies [according to the Daily Racing Form], and she's not even on there. But she did win a Grade I this year, and it was over this course."
Squeak's win at 6-1 spoiled a storybook finish by Real Connection, the one-eyed 7-year-old mare who was making her 72nd--and probably last--start for owner Bill Thomas and trainer Mel Stute. Real Connection, last in last year's Matriarch, went into Sunday with a 14-race losing streak and was 41-1, the longest price in the eight-horse field. But she moved to the lead on the rail with an eighth of a mile left, and until Squeak overhauled her in midstretch, she had the look of the biggest upset in Matriarch history.
Instead, Real Connection settled for second place in a topsy-turvy outcome. Stute's horse was 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Green Jewel, who was 15-1, and Society Dream, at 22-1, ran fourth. Auntie Mame, the 13-10 favorite who had shipped in from New York, was fifth, with her trainer, Angel Penna Jr., bemoaning her inability to cope with the soft going.
Auntie Mame might have had an outside shot to win the Eclipse Award for females on grass, but now the title will surely go to Fiji, who won six of seven this year, including the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita, and missed the Matriarch because of a cough.
"The way my filly ran today, I would have liked to have run against Fiji," Cecil said. "I think we could have given her a run for her money."
Running 1 1/4 miles in 2:05, Squeak paid $15.20 to win and earned $420,000. She is owned by Gary Tanaka, who works for a London investment firm. Squeak had won the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park July 4, but since then had been seventh in the Ramona Handicap at Del Mar and fifth in the Yellow Ribbon.
Solis, who won last year's Matriarch with Ryafan, rode Squeak for the first time. They were almost 10 lengths behind down the backstretch.
"By the time we got to the half-mile pole," Solis said, "she felt like she was going to run a really good race. David Flores [on Real Connection] had a lot of horse, so I pulled up right behind him and waited. We got through at about the three-sixteenths pole, and once I got her in the clear, she was very strong. I knew we had it won."
Sophie My Love and See You Soon, who were 1-2 after six furlongs, wound up at the back of the field. Trainer Bobby Frankel, who trains See You Soon, the 3-1 second choice, said that his filly was closer to the front than he expected.
John Velazquez, the New York-based rider who rode Auntie Mame, returned one race later and won the $500,000 Early Times Hollywood Derby with Vergennes at 17-1. Vergennes, who beat Dixie Dot Com by 1 3/4 lengths, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 2/5, races for Allen Dragone, former chairman of the New York Racing Assn., who has had good luck bringing horses to Hollywood Park's fall turf festival. Dragone won the 1995 Generous with Old Chapel and the 1996 Miesque with Ascutney.
Old Chapel and Vergennes are both sons of Dynaformer. Vergennes, purchased as a yearling for $135,000, earned $300,000 Sunday for his fifth win in 14 starts. Saddled by assistant Ellee Diamond, Vergennes is trained by Mark Hennig, who left California in 1995. Hennig's first training win came at Hollywood Park in 1992.
"This horse didn't sweat in the paddock like he usually does," said Velazquez, who won the 1996 Hollywood Derby with Marlin. "He had run well in New York on a soft course. I wasn't that surprised that he ran this well."
Vergennes was Dragone's first Grade I winner.
Dr Fong, the 13-10 favorite, finished fifth, and Ladies Din, the second choice, was fourth as his four-race streak ended. Dr Fong got trapped behind horses on the turn and Ladies Din, said jockey Gary Stevens, was uncomfortable with the soft ground.
Horse Racing Notes
Supercilious, ridden by Laffit Pincay, came from last place to win the Cat's Cradle Handicap, a $100,000 race for California-breds, by five lengths. Three scratches reduced the field to four. . . . For the first time, Japanese horses swept the first three positions in the Japan Cup in Tokyo. El Condor Pasa beat Air Groove by 2 1/2 lengths to win the $3-million race, with Special Week finishing third. The North American entrants, Chief Bearhart and Maxzene, ran fourth and fifth.