Her last four stakes wins have come at seven furlongs, but if grade I winner Evita Argentina hopes to add the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) to her fine record, she'll need to be at her best at Santa Anita Jan. 31.
“That’s her distance,” trainer John Sadler said of the seven-furlong Santa Monica. “She won three stakes last year at seven-eighths, although this is tougher company and it’s for 4-year-olds and up.”
How tough? Seven of the 12 entrants in the Pro-Ride test for older fillies and mares are weighted within two pounds of the top load of 120 to be carried by Evita Argentina. Among those signed on for the Santa Monica are grade I winners Diamondrella and Gabby's Golden Gal and multiple grade II winner Tuscan Evening.
Proviso, group I-placed in France, is also entered with 120 pounds. She finished first in Keeneland's Spinster Stakes (gr. I) in her United States debut last fall before being disqualified and placed second.
Evita Argentina comes off a grade I victory over 3-year-old fillies in the seven-furlong La Brea Dec. 26 when she was squeezed at the start, leaving her last in the field of 11. She blew home six wide in the stretch, however, to win by two lengths in a powerful effort.
Evita Argentina has faced older rivals three times before, winning the A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in July before placing seventh in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) at Santa Anita Nov. 6. Her win in the La Brea is the only start for the 4-year-old daughter of Candy Ride since the Breeders' Cup. The late-running filly has had three published workouts since then and all have been outstanding.
Joel Rosario has the mount once again on Evita Argentina, a six-time winner of $611,400 in 13 starts. The chestnut filly, owned by Halo Farms and Three Sisters Thoroughbreds, drew post 3 in the large field.
“She’s doing well,” said Sadler, who is attempting to defend the Santa Anita training title he won last spring. “She’s had nice spacing between races, and she’s had three works (since the La Brea). She’s ready to go. Like always, she’s at her best when she has pace to run at.”
It appears likely that the pace will be strong in the Santa Monica, with speedsters such as Free Flying Soul, Gabby's Golden Gal and Tuscan Evening in the lineup.
Juddmonte Farm’s Proviso, a group III winner in France, will be making her first start for trainer Bill Mott, replacing the late Bobby Frankel. The 5-year-old British-bred daughter of Dansili has done most of her racing in France and experienced a couple of rough trips in her two American outings.
In her U.S. debut in the Spinster last October, she crossed the line first but was disqualified to second behind Mushka for swerving in the stretch. Next time out, in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita, Proviso gained the lead in the stretch following a troubled trip before fading to fourth behind the streaking Life Is Sweet.
Proviso will be ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano as she shortens up in distance. She has won all three career starts at seven furlongs, each on turf in Europe, including the Prix du Pin (Fr-III) in her final French start at Longchamp last Sept. 6. In her previous race, Proviso finished third behind the brilliant Goldikova in the Prix Rothschild (Fr-I) at Longchamp. She has totaled purses of $725,473 from a career record of 5-2-5 in 17 starts.
Tuscan Evening goes in search of her first grade I win in her initial start on any surface except turf. She enjoyed a superb season for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer after racing previously in the United Kingdom, winning six of 10 starts in 2009, including the Royal Heroine Mile (gr. IIT) and the Las Palmas (gr. IIT) handicaps.
Tyler Baze takes over for Bejarano aboard William Deburgh’s Irish-bred 5-year-old daughter of Oasis Dream. Tuscan Evening is coming off a win in the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 6 1/2 furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course on Jan. 3. A maiden when she arrived in the U.S., Tuscan Evening now has seven wins from 22 starts and earnings of $629,408.
Also making the switch from turf is the British-bred Diamondrella, who won both the Just A Game (gr. IT) and First Lady (gr. IT) on grass last year. Now trained by Gary Stevens, who rode five winners of the Santa Monica during his Hall of Fame career as a jockey, IEAH Stable's Diamondrella has been off the board in both of her non-grass starts while compiling an 8-2-2 overall mark in 20 races with earnings of $823,576.
This will be the final start as a trainer for Stevens, for the time being, after announcing recently that he will devote himself to his work as a television analyst.
Trainer Bob Baffert is hoping Gabby's Golden Gal, winner of the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park in June, will bounce back from her seventh-place showing in the La Brea, a race in which she drifted out and was in tight in the stretch run.
“I hope she needed her last race,” Baffert said, noting that the La Brea was her first start since July 4. Owned by Arnold Zetcher, the 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro won the Acorn while leading throughout the one-mile event at 13-1.
Baffert also entered Gilded Gem, a 4-year-old daughter of Smarty Jones who has won her only two starts and will be jumping up from a 2 1/2-length first-level allowance win at Hollywood Park Dec. 18. “She’s training well, and I think she deserves a shot,” Baffert said. “She’s a late-running horse, the distance should suit her and it’s a grade I.”
Another to watch here is Free Flying Soul, who is likely to cut some lively fractions under Mike Smith. The 5-year-old mare, trained by Bruce Headley for Marsha Naify, has won three of her last four starts while either setting or pressing the pace. Only a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint interrupts her streak of three stakes victories. Free Flying Soul comes into the race with earnings of $283,626 from a 5-1-2 record in 10 starts.
Sweet August Moon, off since winning the Las Flores Handicap (gr. III) at 6 1/2 furlongs April 5, owns a three-race win streak for the Brian Koriner stable and owners Legacy Ranch and Team MacPherson.
$250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), Fillies & Mare 4 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Diamondrella (GB), G K Gomez, 119, G L Stevens
2. Cherryblossommiss (KY), A Quinonez, 111, J W Sadler
3. Evita Argentina (KY), J Rosario, 120, J W Sadler
4. Captain's Lover (SAF), A O Solis, 114, T A Pletcher
5. Made for Magic (KY), O A Berrio, 114, A C Avila
6. Free Flying Soul (KY), M E Smith, 118, B Headley
7. Proviso (GB), R Bejarano, 120, W I Mott
8. Tuscan Evening (IRE), T Baze, 119, J Hollendorfer
9. Czechers (KY), C Sutherland, 113, M Glatt
10. Sweet August Moon (PA), J Talamo, 118, B J Koriner
11. Gabby's Golden Gal (KY), M Garcia, 118, B Baffert
12. Gilded Gem (KY), V Espinoza, 114, B Baffert