12/31/2004 1:00AM

Resplendency best in Monrovia

Resplendency and jockey Casey Fusilier fly to the wire to win the Grade 3 $100,000 Monrovia Handicap at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Resplendency had never raced before on the grass, and there was no way she was going to try it for the first time on Friday. Rather, what trainer Bob Baffert hoped was that the $113,500 would be moved to the main track because of recent wet weather.

At the least, Baffert can join the National Weather Service, because his forecast was spot on.

A rain storm Friday moved the Monrovia to the main track, causing seven defections, including downhill turf specialist Belleski. Nine others remained in, and Resplendency outran them all, virtually gate-to-wire, to win by one length over late-running Puxa Saco.

Market Garden, coupled with Chapeau as the 7-5 favorite, was another three lengths back in third.

Baffert always has had high hopes for Resplendency, a $500,000 yearling purchase in 2002 by owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. After winning once in three starts at age 2, she returned last summer at Del Mar and scored a powerful victory against a first-level allowance field.

She regressed, however, in two subsequent starts, but her recent works convinced Baffert she was ready for a stakes. But only if the race came off the grass. Had it stayed on the turf, Resplendency would have been scratched.

"She was sitting on a race like at Del Mar," Baffert said. "She was training fantastic. I think she's that good a filly."

Resplendency ($12.60), a daughter of Tale of the Cat, covered 6 1/2 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:15.34. She was ridden by Casey Fusilier, who was winning his first stakes race at Santa Anita.

"It's a dream come true," Fusilier said. "It's everything I've ever wanted."