10/25/2003 12:00AM

Valenzuela steals Distaff on Adoration


ARCADIA, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela was wearing the dark blue silks of owners John and Jerry Amerman in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Distaff, but he forgot to add a ski mask. Valenzuela made like a bank robber, stealing the Distaff with Adoration with a front-running upset to begin the 20th Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita.

Adoration was sent off the longest shot in the seven-horse field at 40-1, and it was apparent the other riders dismissed her as cavalierly as the fans. Adoration set an extremely comfortable pace of 23.28 seconds and 47.08 for the first half-mile, then blew the race open on the turn, when she threw a 24.02-second third quarter at her rivals. She continued to pour it on in the stretch, winning by a stunning 4 1/2 lengths. She completed 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.17.

Adoration ($83.40) was the third-longest shot to win the Distaff, topped only by Spain ($111.80) in 2000, and One Dreamer ($96.20) in 1994.

Elloluv, who chased Adoration from second the entire race, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Got Koko, who raced wide throughout. Sightseek, sent off as the 3-5 favorite, was fourth, and was followed, in order, by Buy the Sport, Take Charge Lady, and Lady Tak.

Sightseek was never a threat. Because she did not attack the leaders on her own, jockey Jerry Bailey was forced to start asking her midway down the backstretch.

"I never had a confident feeling," Bailey said.

Had Sightseek won, she likely would have secured the Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare. Her loss, coupled with the upset by Adoration, might very well swing voters back to Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, who missed this race with a tendon injury and is likely to be retired.

Valenzuela was winning his seventh Breeders' Cup race, but this was his first since 1992. His career has been pockmarked by substance abuse and other personal issues, but he has stayed on the straight and narrow since his most recent return, nearly two years ago.

"I'm just a very blessed individual, as you know," said Valenzuela, who has become devoutly religious. "I thank the Lord, Jesus Christ."

Adoration had won just once in three starts this year. She had never before won a Grade 1 race. Her biggest previous victory came in last year's Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks.