DEL MAR — There are race tracks that Fran's Valentine likes and tracks that she doesn't. Put down Del Mar as one that she loves.
Back in September 1984, in the second race of her life, Fran's Valentine broke her maiden at Del Mar.
Fran's Valentine didn't make another Del Mar appearance until two weeks ago, and although the 4-year-old filly could finish only third in the Palomar Handicap, it was a solid effort, being her first try on grass.
The Palomar told trainer Joe Manzi something else about Fran's Valentine--her three dull performances this summer at Hollywood Park had nothing to do with her physical condition.
Although she's a bay filly, Fran's Valentine looked in the pink Saturday, running off with the $100,000 Chula Vista Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths as Dontstop Themusic, the 2-5 favorite, finished third in the five-horse field.
The win, worth $59,500 to breeder-owner Earl Scheib, pushed Fran's Valentine over the $1-million mark in career purses and made her the first female California-bred to reach that level.
Returning to dirt, Fran's Valentine ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 2/5. Cenyak's Star, who led until the top of the stretch, finished second, three lengths ahead of Dontstop Themusic, who was attempting to become only the second horse to win the Chula Vista in consecutive years.
Fran's Valentine, the second betting choice, won her 11th race out of 25 starts and paid $8.80, $4.20 and $2.20. The payoffs on Cenyak's Star were $6.40 and $2.20, and Dontstop Themusic, who needed a photograph to hold the show over Miss Beverly Hills, returned $2.10.
Bill Shoemaker, who turned 55 last Tuesday, rode Fran's Valentine for the second time and picked up his 950th stakes victory, 87 of them at Del Mar, and 8,583rd career win.
Manzi told Shoemaker before the race to place Fran's Valentine just behind the speedy Cenyak's Star if Dontstop Themusic and Laffit Pincay chose to lay back.
"That's exactly what happened, and that's just what Shoe did," Manzi said. "I think Shoe has more confidence in this filly now. He knows her better than the first time he rode her."
Miss Beverly Hills edged ahead of Fran's Valentine to take second for just a few strides going down the backstretch. On the turn for home, with Dontstop Themusic in fourth place and showing no sign of a rally, Pincay went to the whip. Shoemaker, within range of Cenyak's Star all the way, just cocked the whip in his left hand, not needing it until his mount was past the eighth pole.
"You've got to make this filly run, because she kind of loafs," Shoemaker said. "When I finally got to the leader near the eighth pole, I thought I had it won."
Manzi explained why Fran's Valentine sometimes runs dull races.
"The track at Hollywood Park wasn't the same this year and she wasn't getting a hold of it," the trainer said. "There have been other tracks that were loose and broke away out from under her--the Keeneland track, at Saratoga and at Belmont Park."
Those tracks were the scenes of some of Fran's Valentine's most disappointing performances last year. She ran fifth in the Ashland at Keeneland, was a well-beaten second by divisional champion Mom's Command in the Alabama at Saratoga and finished third in the Gazelle Handicap at Belmont.
Dontstop Themusic, who would have been just short of the $1-million purse mark with a win, had finished ahead of Fran's Valentine in all three of their previous meetings.
After the Chula Vista, Randy Winick, Dontstop Themusic's trainer, said Pincay told him that the 6-year-old mare "acted like the track was stinging her feet. She wasn't striding out like she usually does."
Manzi said that the $125,000 Ramona Handicap on Sept. 7 "is definitely in our plans" for Fran's Valentine. The Ramona would mean a return to the turf for the Saros-Iza Valentine filly, but why not? The race is at Del Mar, where her beginnings were humble but her likings have always been strong.