01/16/2004 12:00AM

Island Fashion simply looks best


ARCADIA, Calif. - In Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes, Island Fashion will try to take another step toward sweeping Santa Anita's La Canada Series, but there are several 4-year-old fillies trying to trip her up. Whether they are good enough to get in her way is another matter entirely.

Island Fashion is the most accomplished runner in the Grade 2 El Encino, and will be a heavy favorite. She won last year's Alabama Stakes, and since heading back to California has turned in two huge efforts for trainer Marcelo Polanco, including a runaway victory in last month's La Brea Stakes when ridden for the first time by Kent Desormeaux.

The seven-furlong La Brea kicked off the La Canada Series, which was swept last year by Got Koko. The El Encino, at 1 1/16 miles, and next month's La Canada Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles, are well within range for Island Fashion, who has won Grade 1 races from seven to 10 furlongs.

The only hope for those trying to beat her is that Island Fashion somehow regresses and throws in the kind of somnambulant effort that pockmarked her 3-year-old campaign, as she did in the Gazelle. She is coming off a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109, leading contrarians to wonder if she might bounce. But her task is made easier because next week's Sunshine Millions has siphoned off several horses, such as the unbeaten Pesci, who might have provided a stern challenge.

Eight entered in the race, but fewer are expected to run. One of the defections might be Voodoo's Sister, a stablemate of Island Fashion.

Victory Encounter is the most intriguing of the upset possibilities. Since being claimed in April, Victory Encounter has won all four of her main-track starts, including Del Mar's Torrey Pine Stakes. She has been off since capturing that race on Sept. 7.

"She came out of the Torrey Pines kind of stressed out," said her trainer, John Sadler, Friday morning. "All her other races she was up close, but that day she came from far out of it. She lost weight. She needed a break.

"She's been working really well. She'll run well."

Sea Jewel is making her third start since returning from a 10-month layoff because of surgery for a knee chip. She showed little in her comeback when sprinting, but made a forward move to win a first-level allowance race on the turf Dec. 14 at Hollywood Park.

"We put her on the grass last time because that's the kind of race that came up for that condition, and she's got a lot of turf in her pedigree," said her trainer, John Shirreffs. "I think she's got a lot of class."