09/07/2003 11:00PM

Spring Star goes wire-to-wire

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Spring Star had not gone for the early lead in any of her previous four North American starts, but facing a paceless field in Sunday's Grade 2, $191,000 at Del Mar, she and jockey Alex Solis ended up in what proved to be the right spot.

Solis took Spring Star to the front, coaxed her through moderate fractions, then had enough left to hold off Magic Mission and survive an inquiry to take the Grade 2 grass race for older fillies and mares.

Spring Star got to the wire a neck in front of Magic Mission, and Garden in the Rain was another nose back in third after a spirited stretch run. The stewards reviewed tapes of the stretch run to see if Solis had struck Magic Mission with his whip, but made no change.

"I never hit her," Solis said. "I would have felt it if I had, and I didn't feel anything."

Corey Nakatani, who rode Magic Mission, thought Solis "struck my horse."

"I know that's what happened," he said.

Becky Witzman, the assistant to winning trainer Richard Mandella, had the most reasoned view of what happened. She believed Magic Mission "shied from the whip," but was not struck.

Spring Star ($5) set fractions of 24.64 seconds, :48.45, and 1:11.81 for the first six furlongs in route to a final time of 1:40.78 for 1 1/16 miles on a firm course. Spring Star, a 4-year-old daughter of Danehill owned by the Wertheimer Farm, was scoring her first stakes victory in this country. She was a Group 2 winner in her native France.

* Later on Sunday, Victory Encounter ($7.60) overcame a rough start by rallying under Mike Smith to capture the $87,450 Torrey Pines Stakes, a restricted stakes for 3-year-old fillies. John Sadler trains Victory Encounter for owner Tom Mankiewicz. Miss Houdini, last year's Del Mar Debutante winner and the 6-5 favorite in the one-mile race, faded to finish last in the field of six.