07/17/2005 12:00AM

Island Sand better than ever in Del Cap

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Island Sand wins the Grade 2, $1 million Delaware Handicap by 3 3/4 lengths at Delaware Park on Sunday.

STANTON, Del. - Eleven months ago, Island Sand nearly died from complications following routine surgery for an entrapped epiglottis. Although veterinarians were able to save her life, trainer Larry Jones estimated it was a "one in a million shot" she would ever again be the same filly who won the Grade 1 Acorn at 3.

Nine months after returning to racing and more than a year since her last victory, Island Sand proved she's better than ever by drawing clear for a 3 3/4-length win in Sunday's $1 million at Delaware Park.

Two Trail Sioux, who led for the first mile of the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 2 race, held on for second, three lengths clear of Personal Legend. Isola Piu Bella, the 6-5 favorite in a field of 11 older fillies and mares, was unruly in the starting gate and finished eighth.

"She just left her race in the gate," said John Velazquez, who rode Isola Piu Bella. "That was it."

It was the third Del Cap victory for jockey Jerry Bailey, who was riding Island Sand for the first time.

"Jerry was familiar with her because he chased her a lot of times," Jones said. "He told me he appreciated getting the mount and would like to ride her again."

That could occur as soon as next month in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Jones, who primarily races in the Midwest at tracks such as Oaklawn, Prairie Meadows, and Ellis Park, said he feared Island Sand was doomed last August following surgery to correct a breathing problem that surfaced in the Mother Goose.

"They had her on so much medication she nearly foundered," Jones said. "There was some question whether they would be able to save her life and we thought her racing career might be over."

In her five starts this year coming into the Del Cap, Island Sand was winless, and was frequently her own worst enemy. In her most recent race, for example, Island Sand broke in the air in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, but still was beaten just 4.25 lengths.

"When all was said and done, she probably cost herself 10 lengths," Jones said.

He admitted he feared more trouble again when the field crossed the finish line for the first time and Island Sand was about eight wide.

"Jerry somehow got her tucked in not more than three wide going into the turn," Jones said, "and that made a difference. Jerry didn't have to do a whole lot once he got her into good position."

Island Sand, now 5 for 16 lifetime, completed the 10 furlongs in 2:02.89 while winning for the first time since the Acorn in June 2004.