01/21/2007 1:00AM

Friendly Island stalks, then cruises

Friendly Island

ARCADIA, Calif. - An insight into the ability of a key rival helped Garrett Gomez guide Friendly Island to a convincing victory in Saturday's Grade 2, $147,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita.

Gomez, who won with his first five mounts on Saturday's program, had ridden pacesetter Limited Creole in four of his last five starts, but opted to ride the more accomplished Friendly Island. Gomez went into the race thinking that he wanted to keep Friendly Island within range of Limited Creole throughout the six-furlong Palos Verdes.

The strategy led to arguably the best performance of Friendly Island's career.

Friendly Island stayed within a length of Limited Creole through early fractions of 22.57 and 45.32 seconds, challenged the front-runner on the turn, and pulled clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Friendly Island ($3) finished six furlongs in 1:08.95.

"I know the other horse, and I thought it was my best option," Gomez said. "I thought the quality of my horse was above the horse on the lead. My plan was to stalk him, and it worked out. I wanted the other horse on the lead."

Friendly Island has won 8 of 18 starts and $969,714. A 6-year-old owned by Antsu Stable and trained by Michael McCarthy, Friendly Island made his first start since finishing second at 58-1 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4. McCarthy is substituting for trainer Todd Pletcher, who is serving a suspension.

The victory ended a four-race losing streak for Friendly Island, dating back to the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico last May.

The Palos Verdes drew only four runners. Harvard Avenue was up for second, finishing a head in front of Limited Creole. It was another 7 1/2 lengths back to To Sender, who made his main track debut.