03/16/2008 12:00AM

Eight Belles defeats Pure Clan in Honeybee

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Eight Belles enhanced her standing as a top Kentucky Oaks candidate on Sunday with a handy length and a quarter win over the previously undefeated Pure Clan in the Grade 3, $100,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third to Kadira.

Eight Belles was the 3-5 favorite over the comebacking Pure Clan,and entered the Honeybee off a pair of blowout wins. The first was a 15-length allowance score at Fair Grounds in January, and the second was a 13 1/2-length rout of the $50,000 Martha Washington here in February.

In the Honeybee, Eight Belles ($3.20) raced in third early as Kadira broke on top in the mile and a sixteenth race and set fractions of 24.31 for the opening quarter, 48.72 for the half-mile mark, and 1:13.32 for six furlongs. Eight Belles moved to the leader midway on the turn, overtook her into the stretch, and pulled away from the field. Nearing the wire, jockey Ramon Dominguez wrapped up on Eight Belles, who completed the distance on a fast track in 1:43.91.

"She relaxed for me and moved at all the right times," said Dominguez, who rode Eight Belles for the first time Sunday. "In the stretch, I was always comfortable with the lead we had and never had to ask her for her best. As long as I didn't have to use her, there was no reason to."

Pure Clan had won all four of her starts at 2, including the Grade 2 Golden Rod in her last out Nov. 24. She closed from last Sunday.

"We were happy with her," said Bob Holthus, who trains Pure Clan. "Of course, we hated to see her record get broke, but we thought she ran an excellent race. There was kind of a slow pace - we were hoping for a little bit more of a pace - but she certainly closed well and she was making up a lot of ground in the last sixteenth of a mile."

Eight Belles and Pure Clan are both now being pointed for the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn on April 6. Eight Belles earned $60,000 for her win in the Honeybee, her first start in a graded stakes. She has now won 4 of 8 starts and $158,650. Eight Belles races for Fox Hill Farm.