All eyes were on trainer Bobby Frankel's British import Cantabria in the $150,000 El Encino (gr. II), but it was the Hall of Fame conditioner's other entrant - the Frank Stronach-owned filly Sugar Shake - that got the job done at Santa Anita Park Sunday.
Sugar Shake, handled impressively by David Flores, notched her first graded stakes win in front-running fashion after being headed in the stretch but fighting back along the inside under strong urging to defeat the outsider Kris' Sis by one length.
It was the fifth stakes win of the young meet for the red-hot Frankel, who is winning at a 33% clip overall, and his third successive Sunday graded stakes win, all coming with Flores riding. It was also Frankel's first El Encino winner since Wild World, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, in 1974.
“She trains the same way she runs," said Flores, who rode the eastern-based Sugar Shake in a race for the first time Sunday. "She’ll get another horse in behind her, and she won’t let them get by her. I’ve worked her the last two or three times, and she’s the same in the morning.
"It’s great to be able to ride these kinds of horses for Bobby . I’ve been working really hard the last couple of years … I knew sooner or later it was going to pay off, and it has.”
Sugar Shake, after staking a pace of :23, :46 2/5 and 1:10 3/5, was tiring in the stretch when headed approaching the eighth pole by Kris' Sis, who prompted the front-runner throughout under Victor Espinoza.
But though the 4-year-old Awesome Again filly was weary, she was also game, coming back to claim her fourth win in 10 starts while increasing her earnings to $208,256. She completed the 1 1/16-mile test for fillies and mares in a so-so 1:43 3/5. She paid $12,60, $6, and $4.
"She waits on horses, so when (Kris’ Sis) ran by her, I wasn’t sure she was going to come back at her, but she showed a lot of gameness," Frankel said. "She’s very big. She’s probably about 16.2 (hands) and she looks like she’s too fat. This is a nice filly. I don’t even know that she was fit enough, to be honest with you, she’s so fat. To be honest with you, I thought she was beat.”
Kris' Sis ($8, $6) was 5 1/4 lengths clear of the show horse, grade I winner Wonder Lady Anne L ($3.20), running for the first time since her sixth-place finish in the Alabama (gr. I) in August.
Cross finished fourth while Juddmonte's Cantabria, twice group-placed in England and coming off an impressive allowance score on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track Dec 6, came home fifth, nearly 16 lengths behind her stablemate as the 11-10 favorite.
“If she didn’t win, I would expect she couldn’t handle the track," Frankel said of Cantabria, who was ridden by Richard Migliore. "The Cushion Tracks aren’t like this, and she needs a little better footing. She was going too hard too early. The jockey said she was spinning her wheels.”
Preciousness finished last in the six-horse field after being eased.
Sugar Shake, a Stronach homebred out of the Skip Trial mare Skipping Around, was coming off a gate-to-wire allowance win by 2 3/4 lengths in her last start going one mile at Churchill Downs Nov. 17. In her only previous stakes outing she was seventh -- nearly 24 lengths behind Wonder Lady Anne L -- in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I).
Frankel's victory was his 859th at Santa Anita, excluding Oak Tree, as he inches closer to Charlie Whittingham's record of 869. Frankel also ranks second in stakes victories with 125, behind Whittingham's 204.