03/16/2002 1:00AM

Continental Red wins San Luis Rey


ARCADIA, Calif. - Perseverence was rewarded on Saturday at Santa Anita when Continental Red, jockey Pat Valenzuela, and trainer Ian Jory combined to win the Grade 2, $250,000 San Luis Rey Stakes in a thrilling, four-horse photo.

Continental Red had been narrowly defeated in two other Grade 2 stakes earlier this meet when he was caught late, but this time he ran down the leader to prevail by a nose over the mare Keemoon.

"He's super tough, super game, and super sound," Jory said. "If ever a horse deserved to win, it's this guy."

Speedy Pick, a 58-1 shot who set a slow early pace and then kicked clear at the top of the lane, was a head behind Keemoon in third, with Ringaskiddy another neck back in fourth. Denon, the even-money favorite, was fifth after a wide trip, with the well-regarded South American import Straight Flush sixth in the field of eight.

Continental Red was timed in 2:26.81 for 1 1/2 miles on firm turf. Continental Red, a 6-year-old California-bred gelding, is owned by Sharon Fitzpatrick and was bred by Fitzpatrick and her husband, Wes, who is the president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. Continental Red, the second choice at 5-2, paid $7.80 to win.

The race was the richest won by Valenzuela since he returned from an absence of more than 1 1/2 years. It was his sixth victory of the week. As he entered the winner's circle, Valenzuela yelled to stewards' aide Ruben Hernandez, "Life is good, brother. Life is good."

Jory and Valenzuela have teamed up for more than a decade, since Best Pal began his career. "Ian's always supported me," Valenzuela said.