The 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria is one of two grade I races for females on the Santa Anita program, sharing top billing with the $250,000 Las Virgenes for 3-year-old fillies.
Ermine makes her first start on the West Coast following back-to-back wins at Churchill Downs, her most recent being in the Fall City Handicap (gr. II) on Nov. 23.
San Antonio native and current Louisville resident Ronny Werner, 47, who trains the chestnut filly by Exchange for Oxbow Racing, will be starting his first ever runner at Santa Anita. Florida-based jockey Eddie Castro, aboard in the Fall City, has the return engagement.
Ermine, who finished second to Lemons Forever in last year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), has posted an overall record of 4-5-0 in 10 starts for earnings of $441,082.
Her opposition includes a trio of other grade II winners: Rahy’s Appeal, who captured Aqueduct’s Top Flight Handicap in November; Seafree, winner of Santa Anita’s La Canada one year ago, and Sugar Shake, victorious in last month’s El Encino Stakes.
Rahy's Appeal, trained by Tom Bush, ran second in the San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) at 1 1/8 miles on turf Jan. 7 with Aaron Gryder aboard for the first time.
“I learned that she’s very handy and puts herself in the race, which I like,” said Gryder, who is reunited Saturday. “She keeps on trying. She was in a pocket but got a beautiful trip on the grass, but I think her form has better numbers on the dirt, so I’m looking forward to riding her on the dirt. She didn’t explode down the lane (in the San Gorgonio), but she went steadily and kept getting stronger."
Rahy’s Appeal is a 5-year-old New York-bred daughter of Rahy with a 4-6-2 record from 19 starts. She has earned $337,009 for owner Marlene Brody of Ghent, N.Y., who races as Gallagher’s Stud.
$250,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I, Race 7, 3:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Sugar Shake (KY), 115 David R. Flores
2. Dona Amelia (CHI), 115, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
3. Seafree (KY), 115, Victor Espinoza
4. Freakin Streakin (FL), 112, Garrett K. Gomez
5. Ermine (FL), 115, Eddie Castro
6. River Savage (BRZ), 114, Omar A. Berrio
7. Political Web (KY), 111, Martin A. Pedroza
8. Rahys' Appeal (NY), 114, Aaron T. Gryder