'Diane Won't be Denied in Bayakoa
Photo: Benoit
Romance Is Diane leads every step in Bayakoa.
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Romance Is Diane proved she is back on the top of her game with a determined front-running victory over Tough Tiz's Sis in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track Dec. 1.

The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares was a Hollywood Cushion Track record of 1:40.90.

The 3-year-old California-bred filly won the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) a year ago over the same surface. But until her 6 1/4-length romp over state breds Nov. 3 in the California Cup Matron on Santa Anita's Cushion Track, she hadn't done much since, losing five starts in a row. Trainer Mike Mitchell gave her two months off prior to the Cal Cup Matron, which was her best previous performance and was also accomplished on the front end.

"I thought having her on the lead, no one could mess  with me," Mitchell said. "It worked out great. But I really didn't think she'd run like this."

With the speedy Sugar Shake in the line-up, jockey Michael Baze hustled Romance Is Diane to the front soon after the start. They carved fast early fractions of  :22.82, :45.39, and 1:08.96 with favored Sugar Shake and Tough Tiz's Sis relegated to second and third in the five-horse field. Heading into the far turn, Romance Is Diane had opened up a 1 1/2-length advantage. On the turn, Sugar Shake backed out of it along the inside, leaving only Tough Tiz's Sis, ridden by Garrett Gomez, to challenge in the lane.

The two 3-year-olds fought it out down the homestretch but the grade I winner Tough Tiz's Sis could not get on even terms with the stubborn Romance Is Diane, who won by one length.

"I just tried to stay patient with her and save as much as I could for the end,” Baze said. “Even though they were going quick, she was just cruising down the backside. I was trying not to fight her because she wanted to go. When I let her, she sure did kick into gear at the head of the lane."

The French mare Fonce De was two lengths back in third place, with Grain of Truth fourth. Grade I winner Sugar Shake, the 8-5 choice, finished last by 21 lengths.

Romance Is Diane carried 115 pounds, five less than the co-highweights, Tough Tiz's Sis and Sugar Shake. She gained her fifth win in 11 lifetime starts. Owned by Senji Nishimura, the dark bay daughter by In Excess, out of Romantic Fibs, by Prized. She increased her purse total to $597,660. Swan Equine Service Co. bred Romance Is Diane.

After opening as the favorite in the wagering, Romance Is Diane was sent off as the narrow third choice, paying $7, $3.40, and $3.20 and topping an $18.40 exacta.

The Bob Baffert trained Tough Tiz's Siz, who defeated Hystericalady by a nose in Oak Tree's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 7 before a seventh-place showing in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) on the Monmouth Park slop, returned $3 and $2.20.

"I had a perfect trip,” Gomez said of the runner-up. “They were going real fast, probably more than our liking, but it worked out alright for us because they both kept going. At about the three-eighths, the other filly kind of snuck away from me. When I turned for home, I moved her back out again and I thought I had a chance to run by her. I just couldn't get by her."

Fonce De, who had one prior start in the U.S. for trainer Jenine Sahadi, was $3.60 to show.

Mitchell said Romance Is Diane is going to race next year, but that she would not be shipped to Florida for the Sunshine Millions Distaff on Jan. 26.

"I want to keep her running on synthetic surfaces, so we'll probably shoot for the 4-year-old (La Canada) series at Santa Anita this winter," he said.

“She’s so good right now and she really loves it over here,” Mitchell added. “She wasn’t training like this at Del Mar, so I was thinking about a Cal-bred race, then possibly breeding her. But after the way she came out of the (Matron), I thought, ‘Why retire her?’”

(Chart, Equibase)

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