04/07/2004 11:00PM

Victory U. S. A. romps

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Victory U. S. A. finally got the measure of Halfbridled on Thursday when she rolled to an 8 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.

Victory U. S. A. last year was third to Halfbridled in the Del Mar Debutante and third to her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Both lost their first start of 2004 and were using the Beaumont as a prep to the Kentucky Oaks on April 30.

Victory U. S. A. roared past Very Vegas, the early pacesetter, at the top of the stretch and bounded clear. Halfbridled, the 2-5 favorite, made a belated bid for second after trailing early, but was no match for Victory U. S. A. Wildwood Flower - like Victory U. S. A. and Halfbridled an invader from California - was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.

Victory U. S. A. ($7.60) completed about seven furlongs on the fast track in 1:27.06. Jerry Bailey rode the 3-year-old filly for trainer Bob Baffert.

Halfbridled, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, was in the Beaumont after missing last Saturday's Ashland Stakes after cramping up three days earlier. She broke sharply, but jockey Alex Solis said she "sucked out of there" when dirt hit her in the face down the backstretch.

Halfbridled made a furious run on the final turn, but drifted wide. "The turns are sharp for her," Solis said. "She was having a hard time with the track. She's such a big filly."

Richard Mandella, Halfbridled's trainer, said the race was far preferable to training Halfbridled straight into the Oaks.

"Having this race," said Mandella, "makes it an easier route to the Oaks."