10/24/2003 11:00PM

Valenzuela steals it atop Adoration

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Patrick Valenzuela exults aboard Adoration just past the finish line. Adoration set an easy pace and led the Distaff field from box to wire at 40-1.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela was wearing the dark blue silks of owners John and Jerry Amerman in Saturday's , but he forgot to add a ski mask. Valenzuela made like a bank robber, stealing the $2 million Distaff aboard 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 most recently had crossed the wire fourth, behind Got Koko, Elloluv, and Azeri, in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap four weeks earlier. She was placed third in that race, because Elloluv was disqualified for causing interference in deep stretch. Adoration wore blinkers that day, but her trainer, David Hofmans, removed them for the Distaff.

"Having the blinkers on makes her too crazy," Hofmans said. "I thought that we would be on the lead, and I wanted to be on a comfortable lead."

Hofmans won his second Breeders' Cup race. His first was an upset as well. His horse Alphabet Soup beat two-time Horse of the Year Cigar in the 1996 Classic.

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 Grade 2 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks.

Now age 4, Adoration has won five times in 14 starts. The Amermans purchased Adoration, a daughter of Honor Grades, privately after she made her first two starts, but Hofmans has trained her throughout her career. The purchase was arranged by bloodstock agent Bob Feld. John Amerman is the former chairman and chief executive officer of the toy company Mattel Inc.