01/22/2005 12:00AM

Whilly takes San Marcos

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BENOIT PHOTO
Whilly and jockey Felipe Martinez go gate to wire, to win the Grade II, $150,000 San Marcos Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Whilly is the pot of gold for jockey Felipe Martinez. The journeyman rider, who usually punches the clock in lower-level races, got his first stakes win at Santa Anita with Whilly on the meet's opening day Dec. 26, then earned the first graded stakes win of his career when Whilly led from start to finish in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 at Santa Anita.

There was no pace in the race, and Whilly and Martinez were quick to seize the opportunity. Racing downhill for the first furlong of the 1 1/4-mile grass race, Whilly led through fractions of 23.48 seconds, 47.63, 1:12.58, and 1:37.12 for one mile. That left him with plenty in reserve for the sprint for home, and no one could catch him through a final quarter-mile in 23.56 seconds, which allowed Whilly ($8.80) to complete the distance on a firm course in 2:00.68.

Puppeteer made a bid late in the stretch, but Whilly held him off to win by a half-length. T.H. Approval was third, another two lengths back. License to Run, the 4-5 favorite, finished fifth in the field of six after coming under a ride midway on the final turn. Epicentre and Puerto Banus were scratched earlier in the day.

Doug O'Neill, who trains Whilly, has been the 40-year-old Martinez's biggest booster in recent years.

"Felipe gave him a Fernando Toro-style ride," O'Neill said. "He tries hard every time."

"Doug said in case I found myself on the lead, just be patient," Martinez said. "I was hoping someone would go to the lead, but Doug said if there's no speed, don't worry about it."

The San Marcos marked the first time Whilly, a 4-year-old colt by Sri Pekan, had faced older rivals. He has now won seven times in 13 starts, and has won three of his last four, including the opening-day Sir Beaufort Stakes.

Whilly was purchased privately in Italy last summer by bloodstock agent Eugenio Colombo on behalf of the Boghossian family's Triple B Farms.

"The owner has been really good to us," Martinez said.

O'Neill said Whilly could race once more here in February before a potential start in March in Dubai.