Shut off while making what appeared to be a winning bid along the rail, Lady of Shamrock was awarded the $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) via disqualification April 20 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Following a lengthy review, stewards ruled that pacesetter Viva Carina, under right-handed urging from Victor Espinoza, had interfered with the advancing Lady of Shamrock. The 3-10 favorite had rallied along the inside from last on the far turn for Rafael Bejarano to pull within a neck of Viva Carina near the sixteenth pole. Lady of Shamrock took up briefly before resuming her chase as Viva Carina came under the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front.
Hronis Racing's Lady of Shamrock earned her first victory since taking back-to-back grade I events last summer, the American Oaks and the Del Mar Oaks. Fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), the 4-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy made her seasonal debut with a second in the Santa Ana Stakes (gr. IIT) March 24.
John Sadler trains Lady of Shamrock, who was bred in Kentucky by James Keogh's Grovendale Sales out of the Blushing John mare Blushing Issue. An $80,000 yearling, she fetched just $11,000 from Ronny Warner at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. She was purchased privately by Kosta and Pete Hronis following her maiden victory on the Churchill Downs turf in November 2011.
Sadler noted that Lady of Shamrock was nearly undone by a slow pace for the second straight race.
"She's gotten very relaxed this year, so it's pretty scary," Sadler said. "She wants to sit back and close and she had to give away a lot of weight on top of it, so I'm going to go out and try to find her a rabbit."
Two scratches left a field of five older fillies and mares for the Santa Barbara, with the deep-closing Lady of Shamrock the heavy choice.
The Argentina-bred Viva Carina staked an immediate lead in the 1 1/4-mile event over firm ground. The 8-1 outsider carved soft quarter mile fractions of :25.17, :49.98, and 1:14.41, while leading second choice The Only Key by about one length. Lady of Shamrock was content to trail the compact field, about six to seven lengths behind the leader.
Viva Carina reached the quarter pole in 1:37.92 and was inching away from the rest leaving the final turn. But Lady of Shamrock extended stride at the rail to rally smartly from last into second position in upper stretch. Viva Carina came off the rail in the stretch, giving Bejarano the option of moving Lady of Shamrock through the inside, which he decided to do.
Espinoza, attempting to keep Viva Carina on a straight course with his right-handed whip, allowed his mount to get too close to Lady of Shamrock, who steadied abruptly after committing to the hole. Viva Carina straightened course and finished in front in a time of 2:00.91.
Lady of Shamrock continued willingly to run second, one length in front of Caelis and Joe Talamo. The Only Key and Double Ante followed.
"I was a little worried about the pace and the horse on the lead was going really slow so I just tried to save ground on both turns," Bejarano said. "When I saw the opportunity on the rail in the stretch, and I saw a lot of room I just kept running but unfortunately when Victor used the right hand stick, his horse kept coming in and completely crossed my lane and I was completely on her heels so I didn't have any choice but to hold my horse and stop riding a little, and then letting her go again.
"I don't think (Espinoza) knew I was there. I tried to come running but I also wasn't screaming and didn't let him know. He was surprised; it wasn't his fault. His filly just kept coming in. I tried to sneak through there, it wasn't his fault. I always make sure I have plenty of room, but sometimes the horses on the lead come in or change direction. That's part of the game."
Espinoza saw it differently.
"I tightened up a little bit but I don't think that caused any change of place in (Rafael's) horse," Espinoza said. "In my opinion, I won the race, there was no way he was going to beat me. The stewards get paid to make these decisions, so I cannot tell them what to do, or predict what they will do."
Lady of Shamrock's dam is a half sister to grade I winner Royal Chariot. Blushing Issue is also the dam of grade II winner Smooth Jazz and multiple stakes winner She's Sensational.
Posting her seventh win from 13 lifetime starts, Lady of Shamrock boosted her bankroll to $825,400. The Santa Barbara was her sixth stakes win, four coming in graded events.
Lady of Shamrock carried top weight of 123 pounds and paid $2.60, $2.20, $2.10. Viva Carina, looking for her first stakes victory for trainer A.C. Avila, returned $4.20 and $2.80 while rounding out a $11 exacta. British-bred Caelis, an allowance winner in her prior start for trainer Peter Miller March 29, paid $3.40.
Sadler, who is pointing Lady of Shamrock to a return to the Breeders' Cup this fall, said he would consider the $250,000 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) at 1 1/8 miles on turf May 27 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Long Face and Moone's My Name scratched.