Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the 6-5 choice Balance covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49 2/5 on a wet fast track slowed by more than a half-inch of rain overnight.
David Hofmans trains Balance, a daughter of Thunder Gulch who recorded back-to-back grade I wins at Santa Anita last season in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks. She lost her final two races of 2006, however, including an 11th-place finish as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and went to the sidelines for nearly eight months. She returned Dec. 30 to run third in the seven-furlong La Brea (gr. I), a tune-up for her preferred two-turn trip.
“Today she felt like before,” said Espinoza. “She was in the bridle when she came out of the gate and was dragging me all the way to the first turn. She settled down from that point, and, after that, it was over with.”
“It’s great to have her back,” said Hofmans. “I think she’s stronger and bigger. You can just see it. Victor said she has a whole better way of going.”
Balance stalked the pace while on the outside as Witch Woman led the field through fractions of :23 2/5, :47 1/5 and 1:10 4/5. Espinoza allowed Balance to advance four wide on the turn and they engaged Bai and Bai, who made a big move along the inside under jockey Roberto Gonzalez, for the lead at the head of the stretch. They battled to the furlong pole, when Balance began to demonstrate her superior talent and she drew away under strong handling.
The game Northern California-based Bai and Bai, who was in tight early before grabbing the lead briefly leaving the quarter pole, drifted a bit in the stretch but held onto second by three parts of a length over Les Ry Leigh, who finished willingly in a much improved effort over her seventh-place showing in the La Brea for jockey Alex Solis.
Balance's fifth win in 10 carer starts (she also has one second and three thirds) was worth $120,000, pushing her earnings to $720,159.
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, she paid $4.40, $3 and $2.40. Bai and Bai returned $4.80 and $3.20, completing a $19.40 exacta. Les Ry Leigh was $4 to show.
Then came the Bobby Frankel-trained Witch Woman, Sweet Belle and Kris' Sis, the 2-1 second choice who pressed the pace but was left behind coming off the far turn. Sugar Shake, who won the Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) Saturday for Frankel, was scratched.
Maverick Production Limited bred Balance in Kentucky. Out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux, she was sold for $260,000 as a 2004 yearling at Keeneland.