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Islington Leads an Irish Sweepstakes

Winner improves on last year's third-place finish, as Europeans aren't bothered by conditions.

October 26, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

In the last few days, the worries of high temperatures and smoke-filled skies hung over the quarantine barn at Santa Anita.

That's where the foreign horses are stabled, and the concern among European trainers was what impact, if any, the scorching heat and unhealthy air would have on their high-priced stock.

It turns out they shouldn't have worried, at least not as far as the Irish and British horses running in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf race were concerned.

On a 99-degree day in Arcadia and with ash from brush fires near Rancho Cucamonga drifting over the track, European horses took the top five places in the 1 1/4-mile race, with Kieren Fallon bringing Islington home first by a neck as Irish-bred horses finished 1-2-3.

Longshot L'Ancresse, ridden by Edgar Prado, finished a surprising second at 46-1, while Yesterday, with Mick Kinane aboard, came in third. Both are trained by Aidan O'Brien.

The victory was especially satisfying to Islington's connections, if not to the filly herself. She had finished third in the same race last year at Arlington Park, less than two lengths behind French winner Starine and beaten for second by a neck by Banks Hill.

"The loss last year was no one's fault," said Sir Michael Stoute, who trains Islington for the estate of the late Lord Weinstock. "As Kieren said, it was interference just after the start in Chicago that had us six [lengths] back, further than we wanted to be. We only got beat by a length and a half."

This time around, Islington got away cleanly and finished strongly, coming from sixth place to first in the final quarter-mile.

"It was just a great run," Fallon said.

The victory made the Barbados-born Stoute the first British trainer to win a Breeders' Cup race in California.

"It feels great," he said. "I was third with Sonic Lady in 1987, so it feels nice to win. The key is to come really fresh. In the early days, it was sort of an afterthought [to enter the Breeders' Cup]. You have to plan for it."

Islington covered the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.13 after going off as the favorite at almost 3-1. She paid $7.80 for the win.

Prado was only a neck away from a memorable upset on L'Ancresse.

"The heat didn't seem to bother her," he said. "She was nice and relaxed.... We had a good stretch duel but just got beat by a better filly."

As for Islington's future, Stoute was undecided. "We'll see how she is," he said. "She's got an invitation to the Japan Cup. But it will be a little while before we determine ... whether she goes [home] to Ballymacoll or to Ballymacoll via Japan."

For the moment there is a victory to savor.

"The other Europeans, with the exception of the French, have not really performed very well in California," Stoute said. "So it's nice that we're finally learning how to do it."

Perhaps all that was needed was a little heat and smoke.

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