01/18/2004 1:00AM

Victory Encounter rallies to win

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When Island Fashion, the expected heavy favorite, scratched from Sunday's $150,000 , the Grade 2 race was gutted, leaving seven runners who collectively had never won a graded stakes race. The only one who had even won a restricted stakes, Victory Encounter, proved the beneficiary, as she rallied for a 1 1/4-length victory over favored Personal Legend.

Although Island Fashion was scratched early in the morning, and her withdrawal was announced over the public address system and was denoted on the closed-circuit television monitors, a large number of bettors apparently never got the message. Her vastly inferior stablemate, Voodoo's Sister, opened at 3-5, and closed at 4-1, about one-fifth what she should have been.

Voodoo's Sister set the pace for the first half-mile of the 1 1/16-mile race, but then stopped and finished last. Her quick fractions set the race up for the late runners. Victory Encounter, who was sixth down the backside, got the jump on Personal Legend, who was last early. Personal Legend closed sharply, but Victory Encounter was never in danger. Personal Legend got up for second, a half-length in front of third-place Cat Fighter.

Victory Encounter ($8.80), ridden by Mike Smith, was timed in 1:42.52 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track. She has won five times in six starts since being claimed by trainer John Sadler on behalf of owner Tom Mankiewicz for $32,000 in April. Victory Encounter was making her first start since capturing Del Mar's restricted Torrey Pines Stakes in September.

"She's been a real pleasure," Sadler said. "She's won all her races for us except for the one time we ran her on turf."

The El Encino is the second leg of the three-race La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies. Island Fashion won the first leg, the La Brea, a Grade 1 race at seven furlongs. She was scratched from the El Encino in order to go in another seven-furlong, Grade 1 race, this Sunday's Santa Monica Handicap against older runners such as Sightseek.

"That was a huge break," Sadler admitted.