Star Billing upsets in Matriarch

Updated: November 25, 2011, 11:41 PM ET
By Marty McGee | Daily Racing Form



INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Facing a top-class field of East Coast shippers, a local turf filly stole the show Friday in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.

California-based Star Billing and jockey Victor Espinoza rallied past a good field of shippers to post a $23.40 upset in the one-mile stakes, giving trainer John Shirreffs his third win on the card and validating owner-breeder George Krikorian's confidence.

"It confirms that she is the kind of horse we thought she was," Krikorian said after Star Billing defeated Summer Soiree. Odds-on Never Retreat finished 2 1/4 lengths back in the $250,000 stakes.

Star Billing saved ground in sixth, rallied along the rail late, and inched clear late over Summer Soiree. The favorite Never Retreat, who did not corner well on the far turn, put in a belated late rally to snatch third.

Up In Time clipped heels on the far turn and unseated jockey Martin Garcia, who said afterward he was not hurt. After the top three, the order was completed by 3.60-1 second choice Unbridled Humor, who finished fourth with no visible alibi, and 2010 Matriarch winner Gypsy's Warning, who may have been making the final start of her career.

Quiet Oasis and Madera Castana finished sixth and seventh; the biggest disappointment was Never Retreat, who entered the race having won five graded stakes this year in the U.S. and Canada. Her jockey Julien Leparoux offered no excuse.

"I asked her to go on the second turn, and the rest started to go," Leparoux said. "But she did not go." Never Retreat, trained by Chris Block, was making her final career start after winning 11 races and more than $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, the future is bright for Star Billing, a 3-year-old making just her seventh start. Winner of the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes at Hollywood in May, she hit the board without winning three California stakes before a misfire at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth.

"She did not handle the turf that day," Krikorian said, admitting he started thinking about the Matriarch soon after. When the daughter of Dynaformer trained well, Shirreffs gave him the green light.

Krikorian said Star Billing will remain in training as a 4-year-old. The win stamps her as the leading turf filly or mare based in California due to uncertainty surrounding All Star Heart, who scratched Friday morning from the Matriarch.

Trainer Ron McAnally said All Star Heart was "not 100 percent" after she galloped on Thursday. Further information is pending. All Star Heart won the Grade 2 Las Palmas at Santa Anita in her most recent start Nov. 6.

With winter around the corner, Star Billing will get a break and is likely to return in spring. A spring campaign will be considered also for runner-up Summer Soiree. The fourth-place finisher Unbridled Humor is expected to run in a Florida-bred race this winter at Gulfstream Park.

The final time for the Matriarch was 1:35.45 over a firm course.