Passion, under a determined ride from Rafael Bejarano, outlasted favored Ariege in a fierce stretch duel, taking the $100,000 La Habra Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by a nose Feb. 2 on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita.
Passion, the pacesetter, and Ariege, with Garrett Gomez aboard, hooked up at the top of the lane in the 6 ½-furlong event for 3-year-old fillies, going at each other for the length of the stretch. Passion, on the outside, never relinquished her narrow lead, hanging on for her second consecutive win and first graded stakes score.
Sweet August Moon was 3 ¼-lengths back in third. The final time on the firm turf was 1:13.52.
Coming off a Jan. 18 allowance victory at Santa Anita in her turf debut, Passion made the early lead from post seven, with Brides Folly, Sweet August Moon, La Mina, and Ariege close by in a tightly bunched first quarter that went in :22.63.
A daughter of Came Home, Passion continued to lead through the backstretch, while Brides Folly, Sweet August Moon, and Ariege stalked the pace. The half-mile went in :45.73.
Bejarano swung Passion four-wide as they came out of the turn, allowing IEAH Stables and partners' Ariege room on the inside. Ariege nearly drew even at the top of the lane, and it looked as though the Doneraile Courtfilly had the momentum going towards the wire.
But Bejarano found more with the Todd Pletcher-trained Passion, who had about a half-length lead for the entire stretch. Ariege closed the gap even more in the final 100 yards, but it was not enough.
"I rode the best horse in the race," Bejarano said. "She broke sharp, but she relaxed real well. I think that's the key with this race, you have to get your horse to relax, no matter how fast you're going. When we got to the turn, I had a lot of horse and when we crossed the dirt, she just took off."
Out of the Known Fact mare Rajmata, Passion is owned by the partnership of Derrick Smith, John Magnier, and Michael Tabor, who purchased the filly as a 2-year-old for $260,000 through Leprechaun Racing, agent. The dark bay filly paid $8.60, $3.80, and $2.80 as the 3-1 second choice. The $2 exacta (7-4) with 3-2 Ariege, returned $23.40.
"That's twice she showed plenty of heart," assistant trainer Mike McCarthy said. "She surprised me when she won down the hill first time and actually was the pace. Today we expected a little bit of the same thing, but coming down the dip there, she just kind of grabbed the bridle and told Rafael, 'Let's go.' She was very game today."
After breaking her maiden at Arlington Park by 7 ½ lengths in July, Passion was ambitiously placed in the Aug. 15 Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga, where she finished a game third. She was no factor in the Spinaway (gr. I) the following month, finishing ninth in the seven-furlong test.
Passion was bred in Kentucky by Trudy McCaffrey.
Set Play finished fourth, followed by Porto Marmay, Fanatical, Yasinisi, La Mina, and Brides Folly.