The millionaire Nashoba's Key was flawless during the first seven races of her career in 2007, including a pair of grade I victories. But after a fourth-place finish in last October's Breeders' Cup Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) when she was boxed in, Nashoba's Key lost again in her only start this year, the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita Jan. 26.
Trainer Carla Gaines said she was displeased by the ride given Nashoba's Key by Joe Talamo in the Sunshine Millions. So she has turned to Garrett Gomez, who rode the now 5-year-old Silver Hawk mare to victory in the first three starts of her career, in the Santa Margarita.
“She was too far back off a slow pace,” Gaines said. “She got the winner right past the wire.”
In the Santa Margarita, Nashoba's Key carries top weight of 122 pounds while leading a tough field of eight older fillies and mares for the 1 1/8-mile test on Santa Anita's synthetic main track surface. She and Gomez leave from the far outside gate.
Warren Williamson bred and owns the 2007 California-bred Horse of the Year who won both the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track and Oak Tree's Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT) on Santa Anita's turf course during a tremendous 4-year-old campaign. She won seven of eight starts last year (three-of-three on synthetic tracks) and earned $972,090 for the season. The bay did not race at 2 or 3.
Nashoba's Key went over the $1 million mark after earning $100,000 with her second-place finish in the Sunshine Millions, 1 1/4 lengths behind pacesetter Quite a Bride. In that race, she was sent off as the 3-5 favorite.
The Breeders’ Cup loss ended a seven-race winning streak last year that had begun with Nashoba’s Key’s maiden debut under Gomez on Jan. 17. Gomez was also aboard for a first-level allowance win and for a victory in the restricted Fran's Valentine at Hollywood Park in April. Talamo took over after that.
Nashoba's Key faces some tough opposition this time around, led by Double Trouble, romping winner of the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 9.
A 5-year-old Brazilian-bred mare, Double Trouble has won her only two starts over synthetics including her 4 1/2-length triumph over Tough Tiz's Sis in the Santa Maria, her first grade I try. Double Trouble has registered back-to-back victories, one on turf, for trainer Bobby Frankel and owner Patricia Bozano.
“He thinks she’s a nice filly and he made a little adjustment in her last two races," said Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's California assistant. "She’s been lugging in, so Bobby changed her bridle, and it helped.”
Rafael Bejarano will be back atop the daughter of Wild Event who has posted an overall record of 7-1-5 in 15 races for earnings of $322,204. Double Trouble won a group II race in Brazil.
Frankel has won more races than any other trainer in history at Santa Anita, including 135 stakes races. But the Santa Margarita, regarded as the track’s premier stakes race for older fillies and mares, has eluded him.
The Hall of Fame conditioner entered a second horse in the Santa Margarita, Michael Bello's filly Down, seeking her first stakes win after capturing two of her first 12 starts. She finished fourth behind Santa Margarita foe Dawn After Dawn in the nine-furlong La Canada (gr. II) at Santa Anita on Feb. 10.
John Sadler trains Dawn After Dawn, who won the La Canada for 4-year-olds on the front end by one length as the even-money choice in a field of five. The Florida-bred daughter of Successful Appeal appears to be the speed of the field once again.
Lightly-raced Zenyatta brings an unbeaten record in three starts. The 4-year-old daughter of Street Cry, trained by John Shirreffs for Jerry and Ann Moss, took the El Encino Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in her stakes debut on Jan 13.
She defeated Tough Tiz’s Sis by 1 3/4 lengths, making an impressive rally from last while running the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:40 3/5 over a very fast surface. David Flores, who has been aboard Zenyatta in all of her starts, sticks with her. Her connections teamed to win the Santa Margarita in 2005 with Tarlow.
Shirreffs also saddled 'Margarita victors Manistique in 1999 and Starrer in 2003.
A couple of Irish-breds, Say You Will and Good Mood, add quite a bit of depth to the field. Say You Will ran second in the La Canada in her stakes debut for trainer Eoin Harty. Grade III winner Good Mood ran third behind Trick's Pic in the one-mile Tuzla Handicap (gr. IIIT) on grass Jan. 19. All of her previous 11 starts have been on the turf.
$300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 4:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Sweet Belle (KY), 114, Tyler Baze
2. Double Trouble (BRZ), 117, Rafael Bejarano
3. Good Mood (IRE), 113, Michael C. Baze
4. Say You Will (IRE), 114, Joseph Talamo
5. Dawn After Dawn (FL), 116, Victor Espinoza
6. Zenyatta (KY), 116, David R. Flores
7. Down (MD), 113, Martin Garcia
8. Nashoba's Key (CA), 122, Garrett K. Gomez