Got Koko, upset winner of the La Brea (gr. I) in her last start, proved she's no fluke in Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. II), delivering a 1 1/2-length triumph over favored Bella Bellucci at Santa Anita.
Ridden by Alex Solis and trained by Bruce Headley for Aase Headley and Paul Leung, Got Koko could become just the third to sweep the prestigious La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies. The $200,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) is Feb. 8.
The others to sweep the 28-year-old series are Taisez Vous in 1978 and Mitterand in 1985.
The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile El Encino was 1:42.25.
After winning the seven-furlong La Brea Dec. 28 at 17-1 while taking advantage of lightening quick fractions to score from well off the pace, some doubted the Texas-bred Got Koko could do it again around two turns. The La Brea was Got Koko's first start in a graded stakes race.
Starting from the seven post in the eight-horse El Encino, the daughter of Signal Tap was caught wide early while racing behind the leaders Ponche De Leona, Adoration, Ms Louisett and Bare Necessities through early splits of :23.13 for the quarter-mile, :46.54 for the half and 1:10.57 for six furlongs.
Solis made an early move with her on the final turn, engaging Adoration and Bare Necessities on the outside as they kicked for home. All three were even across the track in the stretch, but it was Got Koko who pulled away. Bella Belluci mounted a strong rally to get second by about three lengths ahead of Bare Necessities, who nipped Adoration for the show.
"The whole way I was five wide," said Solis. "I couldn't stay out there all the way around the (final) turn. I had to make a decision. So I moved a little early and we got down there okay. It worked out for me."
Headley was left shaking his head.
"I don't think they would have beaten her if they had gone around again," he said. "It was an overpowering race today. In fact, this is the first horse I've run that was maybe six-wide on the first turn and four or five wide on the next turn that kicked in the stretch. Usually, your bad racing luck finishes you, but it was a powerful race today, probably one of the best races (winners) I ever trained, because there was no luck whatsoever, just determination."
He said that if Sunday's race didn't take too much out of her, Got Koko would go for the La Canada sweep.
A Keeneland September 2000 yearling purchase for $30,000, Got Koko won for the fifth time in her nine career races, upping her career bankroll to more than $330,000. Eileen H. Hartis bred Got Koko.
Sent off as the 3-2 third choice, Got Koko paid $8.20, $4 and $2.80. Bella Bellicci, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Mike Smith, returned $4 and $2.80. Bare Necessities, with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard, paid $3 for the show.