Mr. and Mrs. Martin Wygod's California homebred Silent Sighs, facing open company for the first time, held on gamely over a surging Halfbridled to win the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) Saturday.
Halfbridled, the undefeated 2-year-old juvenile filly champion making her first start in 140 days, got free for her run after splitting horses coming out of the far turn, but could not catch the easy-running leader. She lost by 1 1/2 lengths as the 1-2 choice. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile Oaks was 1:42 4/5.
Ridden by David Flores, Silent Sighs stalked pacesetter Salty Romance closely, gained a slight lead near the quarter pole and opened up a two-length advantage in the stretch. While drifting some in the stretch, she finished up gamely under Flores' urging.
Gary Stevens, who rode Halfbridled for the first time Saturday, offered no excuse, although he noted that Halfbridled seemed uncomfortable stalking the pace while inside.
"She fought hard, when I got her out, I was proud of her. But I knew I was beat when we turned into the stretch. That other filly (Silent Sighs) wasn't stopping and my filly wasn't accelerating enough to get there, but she was sure trying. She ran a gallant race."
A.P. Adventure, ridden by Alex Solis, found room along the rail to rally for third, another 1 1/2 lengths behind Halfbridled. She defeated Hollywood Story by a half-length for the show spot. The Oaks also marked the first defeat for A. P. Adventure.
Salty Romance, who faded to last in the seven-horse field under Mike Smith, set solid fractions of :22:4/5, :46 2/5 and 1:10 4/5 before giving way.
Flores said that suited him well. "I was happy with where I was, with a very easy pace. When I was set to go I could feel everybody start pushing, so I just saved a little more, then at the quarter pole I went after them. She didn't change her lead, but she just kept running."
Winning trainer Julio Canani had earlier compared taking on Halfbridled and A.P. Adventure to "going to a gun fight with a pocket knife."
Saturday, he laughed. "My pocket knife was OK."
He added, "We changed the blinkers on her. We put an extension blinker on the outside. That was Marty's idea (owner Marty Wygod) so she would change leads. The thing is, this filly is very green, she's very awkward because she's big and everything, but she's very, very talented."
Canani said he would like to go after the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on April 30.
Richard Mandella, who trains Halfbridled, said the $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland on April 3 would be a good spot for her next start.
"She ran good," Mandella said. "It would have been nice to win but she ran good. She ran very nice. I don't have any excuses."
A daughter of Benchmark–Quiet Romance (by Bertrando, Silent Sighs won her fourth race in five starts. She was coming off a neck victory in the Sunshine Millions Oaks at Gulfstream Park Jan. 24. All her previous races were against California breds, including her only previous two-turn effort. In that race, she was second to House of Fortune in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Nov. 8.
She earned $180,000 for the victory to pad her bankroll to 442,700.
The third betting favorite, Silent Sighs paid $15.40, $5.20 and $2.40. Halfbridled returned $2.60 and $2.10. A.P. Adventure's show was $2.20. The $2 exacta was worth $32.80.
After Hollywood Story, Stellar Jayne was fifth, followed by Vencedora Amiga and Salty Romance.