02/17/2004 12:00AM

Tales from the wild West

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Horsephotos
Alex Solis and La Tour (second from left) at the start of the Santa Maria on Monday. They gave fans a scare when Solis fell after finishing third.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Any spectator pressing close to the players at Santa Anita last weekend was in for a memorable ride. Picture the front row of a Gallagher fruit-smashing orgy combined with an Offspring mosh pit.

All seemed at peace Sunday, as the group of polite young fillies assembled for the Las Virgenes Stakes prepared for riders up. Then Wildwood Flower, who was leading the parade, wigged out, reared to her full height, and tipped over backward into a bed of yellow snapdragons.

Witnesses scattered as the terrified filly thrashed about, temporarily tangling a hind leg in the walking ring fence. Official vet Ray Baran was on the scene in a flash.

"She hit her head with a lot of force," Baran said. "But I think the fact that she landed in the softer flower bed might have helped."

Fortunately, the Wildwood Flower sideshow did not distract the Las Virgenes favorite, A.P. Adventure, from her appointed rounds. As her classmate misbehaved, A.P. Adventure stood nearby, mildly entertained but in no way tempted by Wildwood Flower's monkeyshines.

"That's her," said Wally Dollase, A.P. Adventure's rattled trainer. "Cool as can be. Very mellow. She could make a great riding horse for someone."

Not just yet, though. She still has a mark to make as a racehorse. Once Wildwood Flower was escorted from the stage, A.P. Adventure led the field to the Las Virgenes post, then split horses late to beat Starlet Stakes winner Hollywood Story by a half length at the end of a brisk mile. Next for A.P. Adventure is the Santa Anita Oaks, where she'll meet champion Halfbridled.

Monday's holiday crowd got a full dose of theater, the most shocking of which came at the end of the Santa Maria Handicap, when La Tour stumbled just past the wire, after finishing third to Star Parade, and sent Alex Solis spinning to the ground.

"She was very tired and just took a bad step," said Solis, who drew a cheer from the stands as he waved and walked to the ambulance.

After an examination at track First Aid, Solis was cleared to ride. He emerged from the jocks' room a few minutes later with a freshly washed face and spotless white pants, ready to ride Fairly Ransom in the San Luis Rey Stakes.

"I was lucky, because I got to roll," Solis said, describing his unscheduled landing. "I feel fine right now. But I'm not so sure about later."

With that, Solis headed for the walking ring at a trot, making certain he stayed safely in front of the tempestuous chestnut Labirinto. Smart move, because Labirinto should be wearing a lip tattoo that reads "TNT."

When last seen by the racing public, Labirinto tried to become part of that public. Leaving the Hollywood Park walking ring for the Hollywood Turf Cup in December, he spun out of control and backed through a pathway gate in front of a burger stand. Brice Blanc ended up in a tangle beneath Labirinto's legs and went to the hospital. A brave Mike Smith deputized, but Labirinto, a talented French horse, had already run his race.

Now Labirinto was back, under the watchful eye of his young trainer Leonard Powell, who had schooled Labirinto as best he could. With a man on each side and a shank over his nose, Labirinto was led bouncing out of the Santa Anita ring and nearly made it to the tunnel before his new rider, Tyler Baze, wisely slid to the ground.

Once again, Labirinto flirted dangerously with the fans (at Santa Anita, there is only a flimsy rope held by ushers lining the horse path), but Powell and his crew got Labirinto under control before the worst could happen. Baze remounted and the show went on, with Labirinto finishing fifth to Puerto Banus, beaten less than a length.

Who knows what gets into their equine heads? Fear, confusion, maybe an ancient grudge. Ask Darrell Vienna, and he'll tell you that Star Parade has been a handful from the minute she arrived in California from her native Argentina.

"See that hole in the wall," Vienna said, pointing to a chest-high, foot-long gash in the wood panels trimming the lower half of the saddling barn. "She did that schooling the other day."

Star Parade was a virtual throw-in to fill a spot in a draft of modestly priced horses purchased by Vienna in Argentina last summer. Her value at the time was not much more than $20,000, but that figure has soared after back-to-back victories in the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood and last Monday's Santa Maria, which was her first start for new owner Gary Tanaka.

For the Santa Maria, Star Parade was on her best behavior, which means she did not attempt to kill Vienna while saddling and only lashed out with her hind legs a few times in the walking ring, spraying dirt at ringside fans.

In the Santa Maria itself, Star Parade was a headstrong whirlwind, demanding the lead and getting it from Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Adoration. But when the three-quarter split flashed 1:08 on the board, Vienna nearly fainted. "She's done," he said he thought, but somehow she hung on to beat Bare Necessities by a head. As the field pulled up, the fraction was corrected to read a more reasonable 1:10.52. Vienna's heart slowed a couple of beats.

"It's a trade-off," he said. "You can't change her. But it's worth it for a race like that."