Very Vegas sprinted to a clear early lead and held off favored Aspen Gal in the stretch for a neck victory in the $111,350 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Sunday at Santa Anita Park.
Ridden by Mick Ruis at 118 pounds, Very Vegas ran about 6 ½ furlongs in 1:13.99 on a good turf course and paid $35.40, $13 and $8.40. It was the first Santa Anita stakes triumph for Ruis, a 16-year-old apprentice jockey from San Diego who was the leading rider at Turf Paradise this winter.
Aspen Gal, the 17-10 choice ridden by Alex Solis at 115 pounds, was slowly gaining on the winner in the stretch, but settled for second place and returned $4.80 and $4. It was a half-length back to Fortunately, Emile Ramsammy aboard at 114 pounds, and an $8.40 show payoff.
Very Vegas had raced on turf just once previously, finishing ninth in the Miesque Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park in November. She had won four of eight starts, however, including minor stakes wins at Bay Meadows and Turf Paradise. In the La Habra, she used her speed to good advantage, setting splits of :22.24 and :45.01 while maintaining a 1 ½-length advantage over Triple Fantasy. Very Vegas led by a length entering the stretch and gamely held off challenges from Fortunately and Aspen Gal.
"I was just lucky to ride in this race," Ruis said. "They normally don't let apprentices ride in stakes races but I talked to the trainer and I'm fortunate enough to ride for him and he kept me on. This filly and me interact well together so I think that's why he kept me on."Marcelo Polanco trains Very Vegas for Jeffrey Nielsen of North Oaks, Minnesota. A Kentucky-bred by Storm Boot, Very Vegas has a 5-1-0 record from nine starts. The $66,810 first prize bumped her earnings to $178,010.(Chart, Equibase)