08/05/2004 11:00PM

Bull's-eye drawn on Star Parade

Benoit & Associates
Star Parade, shown winning the Milady, is expected to try to wire her competition in the Clement Hirsch.

DEL MAR, Calif. - While the barriers they face Sunday at Del Mar are as dissimilar as their backgrounds, every challenger in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap will be chasing the same target - Star Parade.

Nine fillies and mares entered the $300,000 Hirsch, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race that boils down to a simple question: Will front-runner Star Parade lead gate to wire?

"We're not going to fight her. Sometimes it's better to let them roll," Star Parade's trainer, Darrell Vienna, said.

It has worked so far. Imported last spring from Argentina, Star Parade has risen from an ordinary allowance horse to a two-time Grade 1 winner. A 5-year-old mare, she has won 4 of 10 starts in the U.S., including the Grade 1 Milady last out, and established herself as California's leading filly or mare up to 1 1/16 miles.

Sunday, .

House of Fortune is a 3-year-old facing older for the first time, though her Beyer Figure of 104 last out makes her a threat on speed. Victory Encounter's career-best Beyer Figure is only 96, five points below par, yet she is a Grade 1 winner whose recent works signal improvement. Elloluv ran poorly in both starts since a runner-up finish last fall in the Breeders' Cup. She had excuses for both.

House of Fortune's trainer, Ron McAnally, has never run a 3-year-old against older in a race of this caliber. "We're looking forward to it, especially the way she's been training; she's training really good," McAnally said.

A California-bred, House of Fortune has won 6 races and $500,819 from 10 starts, and has been working super over the Del Mar track. Owned by Arnold Zetcher, House of Fortune will be ridden by Tyler Baze as she starts for the first time since an impressive win June 12 in the Hollywood Oaks. At 113, she carries six pounds fewer than Star Parade.

Victory Encounter is not particularly fast, yet she has won 7 of 12 and earned $420,087. Trainer John Sadler expects an improved effort over her fourth-place finish last out.

"She's trained really well down here. She's sharper, and I think she's going to run a lot better," Sadler said.

Victory Encounter ran the fastest race of her career on this track last summer in a restricted stakes, earning a 96 Beyer that she has not matched since, even winning the Grade 1 Vanity in May and the Grade 2 El Encino in January. Victory Encounter is owned by Tom Mankiewicz, who claimed her for $32,000 in her second start.

Elloluv is trying to recapture the form that made her one of the nation's top 3-year-old fillies last year. After finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, however, Elloluv's form has deteriorated. Trainer Craig Dollase believes she has legitimate alibis. She was derailed with a hind-end problem after finishing sixth in a Grade 2 sprint in December, then grabbed a quarter in her July 10 comeback at Hollywood Park.

"You have to throw that race out," Dollase said. "Her whole [left] foot was bleeding after the race." Elloluv finished sixth as the 9-5 favorite, missed a week and a half of training while the foot healed, and trained forwardly since.

"We're going to get a price on her this time," Dollase said.

Rightly so. Elloluv figures no higher than fourth choice in the betting. "She should be sitting in the right spot, just off Star Parade," Dollase said.

Jose Valdivia has picked up the mount on Elloluv.

Tucked Away, Royally Chosen, Indy Groove, and Miss Loren are also entered.