08/04/2004 12:00AM

Big race for Victory Encounter

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Benoit & Associates
Victory Encounter, winning the Grade 1 Vanity in May, needs a good showing in Sunday's Clement Hirsch Handicap to keep pointing for the Breeders' Cup.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Victory Encounter has already won two stakes this year, including the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap, but Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar may be her most important start of the year.

A win would justify a start in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. A loss would be her second consecutive defeat against top company and could lead owner Tom Mankiewicz and trainer John Sadler to reassess their goals for Victory Encounter, who is 4.

"If she can continue to act with these mares, we can think about it," Sadler said of the Breeders' Cup.

Victory Encounter was a 7-1 outsider when she won the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 9, rallying from last to win by 2 1/2 lengths against Adoration and Star Parade. Adoration returned to win the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs in June, while Star Parade won the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood on July 11.

Victory Encounter returned to finish a disappointing fourth in the Milady, a loss that left Sadler discouraged.

"She might have been a bit lucky in the Vanity, the way the race set up and everything like that," Sadler said. "She was a little flat last time. Maybe it was a little more time between races than I wanted."

In the Milady, Victory Encounter was ridden by Alex Solis, who has since been sidelined indefinitely with a back injury. Victory Encounter trailed by as many as 10 lengths, and closed ground through the stretch to finish 5 1/2 lengths behind Star Parade.

"Her last race wasn't that bad," Sadler said. "She got beat five lengths."

For the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch, run over 1 1/16 miles, Victory Encounter will be ridden by Mike Smith. He has ridden Victory Encounter in two stakes wins - the restricted Torrey Pines here last summer and the Grade 2 El Encino at Santa Anita in January.

Star Parade, who worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Wednesday, carries top weight of 119 pounds in the Clement Hirsch, one more than Victory Encounter. Other probable starters are Elloluv, House of Fortune, Indy Groove, Miss Loren, Royally Chosen, and Tucked Away.

Star Parade is trying for her fourth major stakes win in the past year; House of Fortune, 3, is making her first start against older fillies and mares; and Elloluv finished second in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Sadler knows the Hirsch is a tough spot for Victory Encounter. He considered the Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park, but has decided to stay home.

"It's either run here or ship out of town for a Grade 3," he said. "At least we don't have to ship."

Timeintown steps up to Sorrento

After scoring multi-length wins at Churchill Downs and the Alameda County Fair in northern California, Timeintown has earned a start in Saturday's $150,000 Sorrento Stakes.

This time, trainer Doug O'Neill has a decent idea of what to expect from the improving 2-year-old filly.

In June, O'Neill's brother, Dennis, scouted Timeintown as a potential purchase after she won a $50,000 claiming race for maidens at Churchill Downs by four lengths. Royce Jaime, a client of Doug O'Neill's, made a successful offer to purchase Timeintown privately. The filly was sent to California in late June and won her stakes debut in the Juan Gonzalez over five furlongs at the Alameda County Fair on July 3.

Sent off as the favorite in a field of 10, Timeintown led throughout and won by 3 1/2 lengths.

"That was amazing," O'Neill said. "We'd only had her about a week. She's so laid-back. We never expected her to show that much speed."

The form of that race has held up. Runner-up Kelly's Princess returned to win the Solano County Fair Juvenile Filly Stakes later in July.

Of course, stakes on the northern California fair circuit are easier than the Sorrento Stakes, a Grade 2 for juvenile fillies over 6 1/2 furlongs. The race is a prep to the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 28.

The Sorrento field is led by Souvenir Gift, who is unbeaten in three starts, including two stakes at Hollywood Park; and Inspiring, a sharp maiden winner in her only start on July 5. The rest of the probable starters are largely unknown: Bella Banissa, Excusabull, Hello Lucky, Starleena, and Wise Investor.

Inspiring and Souvenir Gift closed from third to win their last starts. O'Neill is banking on Timeintown's speed to give her a chance at an upset in the Sorrento.

"She's extremely quick," he said.

Fast and Furious works on turf

Fast and Furious, stakes-placed in France earlier this year, worked a half-mile on turf in 53.60 seconds Wednesday. Now owned by Arnold Zetcher and trained by Ron McAnally, Fast and Furious is being pointed for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby over 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 6.

Sweet Return, McAnally's hope for the $1 million Arlington Million on Aug. 14, worked a half-mile on turf in 49 seconds.

Ballingarry won't go in Million

Ballingarry, who finished third in the Arlington Handicap on July 24, will bypass the Arlington Million in favor of the $500,000 Man o' War Stakes over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Belmont Park on Sept. 11, trainer Laura de Seroux.

De Seroux said 1 1/4 miles, the distance of the Arlington Million, is too short for Ballingarry's best race. Ballingarry, 5, won the Stars and Stripes Handicap over 1 1/2 miles at Arlington in July. "He had two tough races three weeks apart," she said.

In October, Ballingarry will be pointed for the $1.5 million Canadian International at Woodbine, which he won in 2002, and not the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Turf rails limit field size

Friday's eight-race program drew only 62 entrants, but will have no more than 59 starters.

Two of the races are run over five furlongs on turf. With the temporary rails set seven feet out, those races have a safety limit of eight runners.

The largest field is the last race, 10 entrants in a claiming race for state-bred maidens over 5 1/2 furlongs.