Scherzinger, given a crafty ride by Mike Smith in her stakes debut, registered a one-length victory in the $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 25 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the 4-year-old daughter of Tiz Wonderful took back along the inside after leading early when 7-5 favorite Teddy's Promise and second choice Heir Kitty hooked up rounding the turn. Roused in the stretch by Smith, Scherzinger swept past Teddy's Promise in deep stretch and held well over the late-arriving Iotapa in a game effort. The final time for seven furlongs was 1:22 flat over a fast track.
Grade I winner Teddy's Promise, looking to go out a repeat Santa Monica winner in her final start and surpass $1 million in career earrings, settled for third. Ted and Judy Nichols' 6-year-old California-bred daughter of Salt Lake, trained by Ron Ellis, is scheduled to ship to Kentucky soon to be bred to Smart Strike.
Hollendorfer co-owns Scherzinger, who went off at odds of 4-1, with Mark Dedomenico, Jason Litt, and Alex Solis II. Coming off an allowance/optional claiming victory at six furlongs Jan. 2 at Santa Anita, the chestnut filly posted her fourth win in her past five starts. She was making her first try beyond six furlongs in the Santa Monica.
Lightning-hot Smith posted his 23rd win of the Santa Anita meet, second to Rafael Bejarano, from just 62 mounts for a 37% strike rate.
"Just a little bit of race-riding today," Smith said with a smile. "I used her early and got her up there (to the lead) to make Victor (Espinoza, on Teddy's Promise) to either use his filly or make her take back, one or the other and he chose to take back, which was good for us.
"When he went to the outside they made a little move on me, which I also thought was good for us because I really like seven-eighths for this filly. She has a big long stride and just keeps coming and coming; she just wore 'em down today."
Scherzinger went to the lead by one length on the outside of Teddy's Promise while posting a 23-second opening quarter mile. Teddy's Promise, in tight behind the leader and anxious up the backstretch, swung between Sherzinger and Heir Kitty to get the lead while reaching the three-eighths pole in :45.48. She and Heir Kitty went on with it rounding the bend as Scherzinger dropped a couple of lengths back.
In the drive, as the leaders began to weaken and Iotapa loomed a threat on the far outside, Scherzinger crept up along the rail under left-handed encouragement from Smith to assume control past the sixteenth pole. The long-striding filly proved best in the final strides as Iotapa and Bejarano came up short. It was half a length back to Teddy's Promise in third, with 123-pound top weight Heir Kitty, Winding Way, and Lexington Pearl completing the order.
"It was a great job by Mike Smith," said Hollendorfer. "We didn't really expect to be out on the front end, but he used his own judgment and that's fine with us. We didn't know if we could beat Teddy's Promise, but we got lucky, got through, and beat her."
Bred in Kentucky by MecCom out of the winning A.P. Indy mare Dancinandsingin, Scherzinger was a $16,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky 2-year-old buy in February 2012. She began her career with a runner-up effort against maidens at Calder Casino & Race Course for trainer Juan Arias in November 2012 before being purchased privately and transferred to Southern California. Her fourth win from seven starts, worth $120,000, nearly doubled her career earnings to $245,374.
Taking off on the name of her dam, the winning filly was named for pop singer Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.
Carrying 118 pounds, Scherzinger paid $10.60, $5.20, and $2.80 while keying a $50.80 exacta. Iotapa, runner-up to Beholder in last spring's Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) for trainer John Sadler, returned $5.60 and $3 in her first start since July 21. Teddy's Promise paid $2.40.
"The race set up a little bit difficult for me out of the gate," Espinoza said of his ride aboard Teddy's Promise who won last year's Santa Monica by three lengths. "(Scherzinger) broke faster than me and I got stuck on the inside. I didn't want to go head and head with the other horse so I started to use up my horse a little bit to move to the outside. After I was doing that the horse on the outside (Heir Kitty) put pressure on me right away so at that point I had to just let her go a little bit. I used her earlier than I wanted and she flattened out on me at the end."
The Santa Monica was the first of six stakes races on Santa Anita's Sunshine Millions/California Cup program funded by the Golden State Series for state-breds.