05/09/2004 12:00AM

Duel sets table for Victory Encounter


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The showdown between Adoration and Star Parade in Sunday's $250,000 at Hollywood Park turned into a setup for Victory Encounter.

While Adoration and Star Parade dueled through a quick pace, Victory Encounter lagged at the back of the four-horse field. She launched a rally under Alex Solis in the final quarter-mile, snuck through along the inside to reach contention in mid-stretch and pulled away to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Victory Encounter ($16.60) finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.28; the Vanity marked her first Grade 1 win.

"I would have been delighted to have been third," winning trainer John Sadler said. "I thought Alex had let her drop too far out of it, but he said she was giving him a good feel. Credit to the jockey for knowing what to do. Solis is on top of his game."

Victory Encounter trailed by as many as 11 lengths on the backstretch.

Adoration, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October, broke well and led through early fractions of 23.51 and 46.26 seconds. She was closely followed by Star Parade, who had led throughout in wins in the Bayakoa and Santa Maria handicaps in recent starts.

On the backstretch, those two were three lengths clear of Star Parade, who was as many as seven lengths in front of Victory Encounter.

Entering the stretch, Adoration edged away from Star Parade, but was quickly challenged by Victory Encounter. Adoration, the 4-5 favorite, offered little resistance late, but held second, finishing a length in front of Star Parade and five lengths in front of Hope Rises. Beaucette and Coconut Girl were scratched earlier on Sunday.

The speed duel aggravated David Hofmans, who trains Adoration. "Who wants to be pushed by a speed horse?" he said, referring to Star Parade. "I didn't want her on the lead."

Victory Encounter races for Tom Mankiewicz, who claimed her for $32,000 out of a maiden race in April 2003. Victory Encounter, 4, has won 7 of 11 starts and $404,520. The Vanity was her third stakes win, preceded by the 2003 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar and the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year.