Inexperienced Polish Polka gives rivals the slip

Showing turf potential, filly wins by a length

Horse Racing

August 01, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

She still has some lessons to absorb, but Polish Polka is obviously going to be a force on the grass.

The lightly raced filly by Polish Numbers drew off from five rivals in the lane and fended off a late charge by Perfect Challenge yesterday to capture the $60,000 Pearl Necklace Stakes at sultry Laurel Park.

Perfect Challenge -- making her debut on the turf -- finished second by a length in the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-old state-bred females. The winning time was 1: 49 4/5 over a firm course.

It was in the final sixteenth of a mile that victorious jockey Mario Pino had a momentary concern when Polish Polka ducked in, then swerved out slightly just before the finish line.

"I hit her one last time right-handed because she was looking around at the grandstand a little bit," said Pino. "She has a lot more talent than experience at this point. She's only run three times."

The favorite at $4.20 straight, Polish Polka and Pino were content to lay off the early lead taken by speedster Silent Valay, who opened by six lengths after a half-mile and looked ready to win.

But the pace was quick and Silent Valay began backing up, with Polish Polka gaining the lead just before the eighth pole. From there, she cruised though Perfect Challenge made a determined late bid.

"Sally [Pierce, wife and assistant trainer to Malcolm Pierce] told me to take her back, get her to relax and see how she would rate," said Pino. "She rated very well and I even had to encourage her, but once she got into gear it was like riding on air."

In two other outings -- a win and a second at Woodbine in Canada -- Polish Polka immediately went to the front.

Asked if the filly might benefit from blinkers in her next start, Pierce said "I wouldn't know because if you put them on, she might be too speedy early."

She is "a very easy filly to be around," continued the assistant trainer. "She trains primarily at Mr. [Frank] Stronach's Canadian farm and then is sent to my husband at Woodbine for some fine tuning a few days before her races."

Perfect Challenge, trained here by Linda Albert, remained winless for the year, but now has three seconds and a third in five starts. Her most notable score was in the Maryland Million Lassie last autumn.

The stewards reviewed the actions of Polish Polka in the late stages of the race, but determined that the winner had not interfered with Silent Valay, who finished third, or Perfect Challenge and flashed the official sign.

Polish Polka has earned more than $63,000.

Laurel held its annual Summerfest celebration yesterday and received an enthusiastic response to a variety of activities despite boiling heat.

Jack Russell terrier races and jumping, a jousting exhibition, carnival games, pony rides and clowns were featured during the card and between races.

"The heat is a problem," said Karin De Francis, senior vice president. "But we really have no choice because we close [for Timonium, then Colonial Downs] and we don't want this to run too close to the Maryland Million [in October]."

NOTES: The Maryland State Fair is seeking horse industry exhibitors for the Timonium grandstand on August 28 and 29 and Sept. 4, 5 and 6. There is no charge. Anyone interested should contact Bobby Lillis at 410-265-6843. The Sports Eye daily racing program was distributed free at Laurel yesterday on a test basis. The program can contain up to 25 tracks in one issue and is published daily. It had been available only at newsstands and similar venues. Trainer Bob Baffert has scheduled Excellent Meeting for her first start on turf August 22 in the Del Mar Oaks, a Grade I race. Meanwhile, Silverbulletday starts next at Saratoga in the $400,000 Alabama Stakes on Aug. 21.

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