04/28/2004 11:00PM

Friendly Michelle wins La Troienne

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky Derby weekend began Thursday with a fitting dose of excitement when Friendly Michelle emerged best in a three-horse finish in the $112,200 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs.

By the time the field hit the far turn in the Grade 3 La Troienne, which was being run at 7 1/2 furlongs for the first time, the race had boiled down to the three favorites. Friendly Michelle, racing closest to the rail, had Ender's Sister on her throatlatch, while Bohemian Lady, the even-money choice, was poised to strike when racing just outside of them.

Down the stretch, the trio put on a terrific show, with Friendly Michelle, ridden by Alex Solis, fighting back to emerge a half-length winner over Ender's Sister, with Bohemian Lady just another head back in third. It was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Pick of the Pack in the field of seven 3-year-old fillies.

Friendly Michelle, owned by Ed Friendly and trained by Bob Baffert, returned $6.80 as second choice after finishing in 1:28.26 over a fast track. The winner is a Kentucky-bred Artax filly who now has four wins, including two stakes, from six lifetime starts.

Solis said that Friendly Michelle may have been a bit intimidated by Ender's Sister, "so I waved the whip at her left-handed for encouragement, and she got peddling."

"That was a tough beat," said Pat Day, who rode Ender's Sister, a Rusty Arnold-trained filly who was coming off a win in the March 14 Florida Oaks.

The La Troienne had been run at seven furlongs for most of its 49-year history.

Jockey Jerry Bailey, who was named to ride several horses earlier Thursday, took off those mounts because of travel problems originating in New York. He was scheduled to arrive Thursday evening.