Upstart Separate Forest opened a substantial lead in her stakes debut and refused to give way to heavy favorite Unzip Me to win the $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap (gr. IIIT) by a neck on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita April 9 (VIDEO).
Running in the first of four graded stakes on the Santa Anita Derby program, Separate Forest was timed in 1:12.64 for the about 6 1/2 furlongs over firm going.
Doug O'Neill trains the 4-year-old daughter of Forestry that he claimed for $25,000 Jan. 14 at Santa Anita. She is out of the Chilean mare Separata (by Sam M.), and is owned by Suarez Racing, Westside Rentals.com, and Darin Tsukashima.
Diamond A Racing bred the winning chestnut filly and raced her, with trainer Richard Mandella training, for the first five races of her career. She was claimed out of a six-furlong main track sprint she won by 2 1/4 lengths.
Separate Forest has won three of four since the claim and was coming off a 1 3/4-length tally in a first-level allowance over the Las Cienegas course April 2. She has now won three of her four starts on the hillside turf.
"Obviously, Unzip Me was the horse to beat," O'Neill said. "You always want to be on the outside down the hill . . . and he just rode her with all the confidence. I can’t believe she won it. It’s amazing. We really didn’t have any intention of coming back in a week but she was doing great and to win is just unbelievable.”
In the Las Cienegas, Separate Forest broke sharply for Patrick Valenzuela on the outside of Unzip Me and established a two-length lead, running down the hill in quick fractions of :21.78 and :43.58. She led by two lengths as the field made its way into the homestretch and maintained a daylight advantage past mid-stretch before coming under urging from Valenzuela.
Unzip Me, ridden by Rafael Bejarano and carrying the heaviest impost of 127 pounds, challenged in deep stretch on the outside but ran out of time as the 5-1 shot Separate Forest persevered gamely while receiving nine pounds.
“This filly loves this hillside course," Valenzuela said. "I knew (Unzip Me) was right behind me and I had to get away from her before we crossed the dirt. I had enough filly under me to get that done.”
The runner-up had won five consecutive rces on the hillside for trainer Marty Jones, including the Clocker's Corner Handicap and the Monrovia Stakes (gr. IIIT) at the current meet. She was attempting to defend her win in the 2010 Las Cienegas.
“The horse just had too much weight," Bejarano said. "That’s what cost me the race. "She broke really sharp, but with the light weight, I knew (Separate Forest) was going to be in the lead easy. So I just sat right behind and followed her. When we came down the stretch, that horse never stopped running. She tried hard to the end, but the other horse had a lot of advantage.”
La Nez, chasing early while racing off the rail, closed willingly for third with Martin Pedroza aboard, 1 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up. Second choice Tanda, making her first start since running third in last June's Acorn Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, finished fourth. She was followed by U R All That I Am, Victoryasecret, and It Tiz in the field of seven older fillies and mares.
Separate Forest won for the fifth time in nine lifetime starts and boosted her earnings to $161,500 with the winning share of $60,000.
Sent off as the third choice, Separate Forest paid $13.80, $4.40, and $2.60 and topped a $28 exacta. Unzip Me, losing for just the eighth time in 19 career races, returned $2.20 and $2.10. La Nez, winner of the resticted Irish O'Brien Stakes March 19 for trainer Eric Kruljac, was $3.40 to show.
Saanneen was scratched.