'Diva Proves Elusive Las Cienegas Target

'Diva Proves Elusive Las Cienegas Target
Photo: Benoit
Elusive Diva and jockey Patrick Valenzuela take the Las Cienagas Handicap.
Elusive Diva won her second stakes on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita this meeting, shooting through an opening at the head of the stretch and drawing off to a four-length victory in the $111,100 Las Cienegas Handicap (gr. IIIT) in stakes-record time.

The Kentucky-bred 4-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality   stopped the clock in 1:11 3/5, three ticks off the course record for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance, in impressive fashion as the 6-5 favorite in the field of nine. The old stakes mark, 1:12 2/5, was set by Advancing Star in 1997.

"She relaxed very well and they opened up entering the stretch," said winning rider Patrick Valenzuela, who took a five-win advantage in the Santa Anita's riders' race heading into the final week of the meeting. "It was like the parting of the Red Sea and she took off."

Elusive Diva won the Wishing Well in her first attempt on the tricky course Jan. 30. She returned to finish a well-beaten third in the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. III), a race switched from the turf and run on a sloppy main track Feb. 21.

Valenzuela rode the Mark Glatt-trained bay filly for the first time since they teamed to win the 2004 Railbird (gr. III) on the Hollywood Park main track, Elusive Diva's only previous graded stakes win.

The 32-year-old Glatt, who won his first graded stakes at Santa Anita, said Elusive Diva would be headed for tougher competition, probably on the turf.

"I'd say the turf is best for her. We'd like to get a grade I win into her before the end of the year," he said. "They were going real fast. Patrick saved some ground, and she just exploded past them."

Elusive Diva was able to sit behind a red-hot pace set by Very Vegas, who broke best, and Irish-bred Megec Blis, who battled for the lead through fractions of :21 and :42 4/5. Elusive Diva crept up as the field made its way through the turn and found room between the fading pacesetters at the gap. The race was all but over at that point as she shot away from the pack and late runners Quero Quero, Winendynme, and Chasethegold came on to fill the supporting spots.

Worth $66,660 to owners John Konecny and Susan and Allen Branch, Elusive Diva picked up her fifth win in 12 career starts, while pushing her earnings to $354,730. John William Konecny and Doris Koneckny bred the winner, who is out of the Taj Alriyadh mare Taj Aire.

She paid $4.40, $2.80 and $2.40. Quero Quero, who secured the runner-up spot by a half-length for Victor Espinoza, returned $3.40 and $2.80. The show on Winendynme, Alex Solis aboard, came back $3.20.

Elusive Diva shared top weight of 117 pounds with fourth-place finisher Chasethegold, who trailed the field for much of the race. She was followed by Irgunette, Allswellthatnswell, Very Vegas, Gypsy Dot and Megec Blis.

(Chart, Equibase)

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