Seafree, making the first start of her career around two turns for trainer Bobby Frankel, ran away from the prohibitive favorite Pussycat Doll early and staggered to victory in the $200,000 La Canada (gr. II) for 4-year-year old fillies at Santa Anita Park.
They ran the final furlong in 14 seconds in the 1 1/8-mile La Canada, but the short field was softened up enough by then and the Edmund Gann-owned Seafree got the job done in her stakes debut by 1 3/4 lengths under Patrick Valenzuela. The final time was a slow 1:50.
Play Ballado and Edgar Prado, perfectly positioned behind a contentious speed duel, could not catch the weaving winner in the stretch and settled for second. It was 7 1/2 lengths back to the third-place finisher, Sharp Lisa, who nipped Pussycat Doll, the 3-5 favorite in the field of five ridden by Garrett Gomez, by a half-length. That resulted in some unusual payoffs because more than $96,000 of the $115,000 show pool was wagered on Pussycat Doll.
Seafree, a daughter of Chief Seattle
, showed good speed away from the gate and dueled between Pussycat Doll on the inside and Sharp Lisa for the early advantage before inching in front and controlling the pace through fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 2/5. Pussycat Doll clung to the leader along the inside but, after they completed six furlongs in 1:09 1/5, Seafree pulled away from the favorite quickly on the far turn. Seafree opened up a sizable 2 1/2-length advantage while she was drifting out in the stretch but held on gamely under strict urging from Valenzuela.
"She didn't want to switch leads but when she did, she accelerated again," Valenzuela said.
Frankel said prior to the race that Seafree, who was scratched from Saturday's Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) for this spot, would be able to take advantage of a lack of speed in the La Canada and looked like a filly that wanted to run farther than she had been.
After the fast early splits, it looked like the race might belong to Play Ballado, the Eastern invader for trainer John Ward who made a strong showing while second to Proposed in the El Encino (gr. II) last month. She edged up on the outside as Pussycat Doll fell out of contention but could not kick in for Prado in the stretch, although she kept trying to the wire. Sharp Lisa, with Corey Nakatani aboard, fell way out of it after her alert start, but was in the money for the first time in four starts since winning Santa Anita's Las Virgenes (gr. I) as a 3-year-old one year ago.
Paddy's Daisy trailed Pussycat Doll. The field was reduced to five by the scratches of Skipping Court and Proposed - who ran in the Santa Maria - and Shimmer.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the San Vicente (gr. II) a race earlier with Too Much Bling, offered no excuse for Pussycat Doll, who was a romping 5 3/4-length winner of the La Brea (gr. I) in her last start Dec. 31.
"She didn't run her race," he said. "She got a little rank on the inside there, and (Gomez) said at the half-mile pole he was totally out of horse. She didn't show up today. I guess I got to take the blame for that one."
The third choice, Seafree paid $11.20, $5.20, and $14.40. Play Ballado returned $4 and $9.40. Sharp Lisa was $16.40 to show.
Seafree won a 6 1/2-furlong optional claiming/allowance heat by a nose Jan. 5 at Santa Anita in her last start. Never out of the money in her seven starts, mostly in Kentucky, she earned $120,000 for her fourth career victory. That more than doubled her bankroll to $230,610.
Steve C. Snowden and William Caudill bred the winner, who was produced by the Fly So Free mare Queen Randi, in Kentucky. She was a $7,500 Fasig-Tipton buy in October 2003.