The grade I winner Mea Domina was being aimed at the Hollywood Park Autumn Turf Festival, but that track's problems with its course forced trainer Ron McAnally to call an audible.
In one of the last chances for grass racing in Southern California until the end of the year, Mea Domina went gate-to-wire under Tyler Baze Saturday to win the Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita.
"There were no other turf races for her coming up, that's why we entered today," McAnally said. "She was tight (for the race). We weren't planning to run. We were waiting for her race at Hollywood (the Matriarch on Nov. 27). When they canceled turf racing, we had to go."
Ridden by Tyler Baze, Mea Domina won for the fourth time in as many tries on the Santa Anita turf, holding off favored Elusive Diva by one length in a time of 1:33 2/5 for the one-mile journey on firm going. Star Parade took third, a neck behind the runner-up.
"Mr. McAnally said she might not be fit enough, and hearing that from him kind of made me worry about it a little bit," Baze said, "but they all do such a good job over there. All I can really say is she's an awesome filly and they've done really well with her. She was definitely fit enough. She galloped out really strong and there was still more left in the tank."
The first three barely changed position during the entire running as Mea Domina broke a step slowly but sped to the lead and clicked off quick fractions of :22 4/5, :46 and 1:09 2/5. Elusive Diva, rdden by Patrick Valenzuela, and Star Parade, with Martin Pedroza aboard, both increased the pressure in the stretch on her outside, but Mea Domina would not be denied. She was in full control while under urging from Baze inside the final furlong.
"The rail was out, so I kind of thought she might be good enough," McAnally said.
The Las Palmas caps an outstanding year for Mea Domina, who earned $90,000 for owner/breeder Janis R. Whitham. The 4-year-old daughter of Dance Brightly-Madame Pandit won for the fourth time in five starts in 2005 while banking $446,076.
She had been sidelined with a rear quarter crack since May 30 when she won the 1 1/8-mile Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) on the Hollywood turf in gate-to-wire fashion. She has now won four of five at the one-mile distance on grass and is six for seven lifetime on the sod. Overall, Mea Domina is 6-3-0 in 11 starts while earning $562,676.
The multiple graded stakes winner Elusive Diva was sent off as the 5-2 favorite on the strength of her three-length win in the Senator Ken Maddy Handicap (gr. IIIT) early in the Oak Tree meeting Sept. 28. She pulled early under Valenzuela before edging up on the outside in the stretch and barely held off Star Parade.
"I was tracking the whole way around there and, when I asked her to pick it up, she picked it up nice," Valenzuela said. "I thought she was going to get to (Mea Domina), but the leader had something left."
Star Parade hit the board for the first time in four starts on the lawn for trainer Darrell Vienna.
New York shipper Bright Abundance, the 4-1 third choice in the field of 10, raced extremely wide on the final turn for Corey Nakatani and lost all chance.
Mea Domina paid $9.40, $4.60, and $3.60 as the 7-2 second favorite.
Elusive Diva returned $3.80 and $3.
Argentine-bred Star Parade, who lost her ninth in a row, was $4.20 to show.
It was a half-length back to the late-running Halo Ola, another Argentine-bred who nosed out Bond Deal for fourth. Then came Dream's, Chasethegold, Aubonne, Pickle, and Bright Abundance.