03/07/2009 1:00AM

Stardom Bound needs every step

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Benoit & Associates
Stardom Bound (center) takes the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks by a nose in a blanket finish after racing wide into the final turn.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Stardom Bound, the nation's top 3-year-old filly, kept her win streak intact on Saturday, but her desperate nose win over a moderate group in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks left her connections soberly realistic about what could come next.

Before the race, the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4, against males, was considered a strong possibility. Now . . .

"I need a defibrillator," said Michael Iavarone, the co-president of the IEAH Stables partnership which is the majority owner of Stardom Bound. "She worked pretty hard. She's really going to have to improve to beat Pioneerof the Nile. She worked pretty hard against the girls today."

Indeed she did. Stardom Bound ($2.80) was heavily favored against eight rivals, and it appeared on paper she would have little trouble disposing of them and moving on. But, after getting fanned widest of all into the stretch, she was just able to get her nose in front at the finish in a four-horse photo.

Third Dawn, a 35-1 shot, was on the wrong end of the photo. Hooh Why, a 12-1 shot, was another nose back in third, and Nan, at 30-1, was a neck farther back in fourth after a brutal trip in which she got stopped twice in the final quarter-mile. The first seven finishers were separated by just 2 1/2 lengths.

Stardom Bound was timed in 1:43.62 for 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride.

Stardom Bound, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, has now won five straight races, all Grade 1 stakes, after finishing second in her first two starts. Bobby Frankel has trained her for her last two races, but Mike Smith has been aboard for every one.

"She feels like she hasn't run," Smith remarked from horseback before heading into the winner's circle. Later, Smith added, "she was pricking her ears and playing around a little bit" in the stretch run.

Stardom Bound trailed early behind a moderate pace that saw the first six furlongs run in 1:12.12. Smith elected to take the safe route and go around everyone, and though Stardom Bound never got stopped, she was fanned about seven lanes wide at the top of the stretch as the rest of the field sought running room.