06/01/2005 11:00PM

Former rowdy now oozes class


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Once the hotel room-trashing Courtney Love of California's best racing females, Star Parade finally has mellowed out. Stall walls and innocent bystanders are no longer in constant jeopardy, thanks to the kind indulgence of her low-key caretakers, trainer Darrell Vienna and assistant Scott Chaney. As a result, the 4-year-old Star Parade arrives at Saturday's $250,000 Milady Handicap with a chance to make history.

Star Parade won 1 1/16-mile Milady last year, leading all the way to beat a field that included Quero Quero, Pesci, and Victory Encounter. This time around, the competition thickens. Star Parade's main opposition will come from the acrobatic Hollywood Story, who went to her knees on the first turn and still won last month's Hawthorne, not to mention Alphabet Kisses, House of Fortune, Andujar, and Santa Candida.

Winning the Milady twice in a row is not impossible. It has been done before, but only by mares with names like A Gleam, Adored, Bayakoa, Paseana, and Azeri. At this point, slipping Star Parade in with that bunch seems a preposterous leap. Vienna, for his part, tends to let history fend for itself.

"Somehow that doesn't impact me," Vienna said, deflating all hype of defending the crown.

The pragmatic Vienna is more concerned with the fact that Star Parade - after nearly two years and 14 races in the trainer's hands - suffered her first bout of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in her most recent start, the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs on the day before the Kentucky Derby. She finished fifth as the favorite, beaten about 3 3/4 lengths by Shadow Cast.

"I would describe her bleeding as a medium-level episode," Vienna said. "She had never bled before, and hasn't since. Scott, who was there with her, said there was a lot of hay fever around at the time, so I suspect there's likely to be some relationship to allergens in the air. It must impact horses to some degree.

"Anyway, I've never used that excuse before. Or can I call it a previously unused rationale for defeat? She didn't get a fever, so there was no reason to scan her lungs. More importantly, though, she came back to work without bleeding."

The most recent of those works was last Monday at Santa Anita, where Star Parade was clocked going three-quarters in 1:11 under Jose Valdivia and a light, preventative dose of bleeder medication. Valdivia will be riding her for the first time in competition on Saturday.

Star Parade's owner, Gary Tanaka, is otherwise occupied this week in a New York court, where he was due to appear Friday after his arrest last week on federal charges. Tanaka, co-founder of Amerindo Investment Advisors, has been accused of using investor money to purchase racehorses for his international stable, of which Star Parade occupies a small California corner.

"I'm not getting any instructions other than to operate as normal," Vienna said.

Allegations aside, Tanaka can thank Vienna for an extra $50,000 in the racing kitty that would not have been there without considerable off-track effort. In April 2004, while battling for second behind Azeri in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park, Star Parade and Victor Espinoza suffered a healthy bump from Wild Spirit, under Jerry Bailey. Star Parade ended up third, behind Wild Spirit, and the stewards let the result stand.

Vienna didn't. The trainer dusted off his law degree and launched an immediate appeal with the Arkansas Racing Commission. Three weeks later, after a hearing that included expert testimony from retired jockey Corey Black, the commissioners overruled their stewards and moved Star Parade up to second. This was small consolation for those who played the Azeri-Star Parade exacta, but the difference between first and second purse money was a cool 50 grand.

So far, Star Parade's 2005 campaign has mustered mixed reviews. After a throwout effort in the Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita, contested over a slippery freeway that passed for a racetrack, Star Parade returned to Oaklawn for another try in the Apple Blossom. This time she had a rough trip and came on strong at the end to just miss catching Dream of Summer. The margin was a neck.

"She had been training very well, and it was a huge disappointment," Vienna said. "So many times you see a horse that's been troubled, but for some different decisions or a little bit of luck you would have won. You think, 'Oh, we'll get the next one.' But you never get that race back."

Unlike such South American stars as Bayakoa, Paseana, and even the well-regarded Santa Candida, Star Parade came to the U.S. from Argentina with a modest portfolio of 1 win in 7 starts while running for purses in the low four figures. Vienna was under no delusions about the company she had kept, and her behavioral tantrums only compounded the notion that she was shy on absolute class.

Now, as the winner of three major stakes and more than $750,000, Star Parade has made her trainer change his tune.

"She's gotten better about everything," Vienna said. "I suppose age has something to do with it, being more mature. I certainly don't think she has to have the lead anymore. In spite of her, let's say, humble beginnings, I think she's established herself as being the real deal."