09/06/2003 11:00PM

P-Val edges Krone in match race

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Amidst cheers befitting the finish of a major stakes, Patrick Valenzuela edged Julie Krone by a nose in a $50,000 match race on Sunday at Del Mar in a showdown between the track's top riders.

Riding Chester's Choice, Valenzuela turned a deficit of 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole into a nose victory over Krone and Woke Up Dreamin in a race over 1 1-16 miles.

"My main concern was getting my horse to finish," Valenzuela said. "I was hoping the other horse could get tired. My horse kept his long stride going."

While the match race billed as the "battle of the sexes", the race counted in the jockey standings and gave Valenzuela a two-race lead over Krone. The race meeting ends on Wednesday.

Sunday's match race featured two winners of maiden races who were eligible to be claimed for $300,000. There were no takers.

Woke up Dreamin, trained by Bob Baffert, was sent off at the 1-2 favorite, while Chester's Choice, trained by Summer Mayberry, was 4-5.

Similar to boxers entering the ring, the two riders arrived in the paddock one at a time. Krone went first, and was met by a strong ovation. Two minutes later Valenzuela walked down the short path from the jockey's room and was greeted by an equally loud ovation.

At the start, both riders sent their mounts to the front. Valenzuela and Chester's Choice broke from the rail and led by a head through quick fractions of 22.17 and 44.53 seconds. Woke Up Dreamin was always close and took a head advantage after six furlongs in 1:09.81.

In early stretch, Woke Up Dreamin began to pull away, leading by 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole. For a moment the race appeared to be over, but Chester's Choice responded for Valenzuela.

"At the sixteenth pole, I could hear Pat grunting and pushing," Krone said.

Krone knew she was in trouble when she snuck a look at a large television on the infield in the final furlong.

"I glanced up at the TV and could see he was coming back," Krone said. "I was like, Come on wire. Come on wire. My horse was getting a little leg weary. Bob Baffert said if I lost I could blame it on his training, so the training kicked in."

Chester's Choice rallied noticeably in the final 50 yards, with Valenzuela celebrating by pumping his whip in the air. Valenzuela had been aboard both horses in their last starts and though the distance would be a problem for Woke Up Dreaming.

"I knew he'd be getting a little tired and my horse started getting to him near the wire," Valenzuela said. "She got away at the five-sixteenths. Coming into the stretch I took him to the outside and he responded well."