Martin S. Schwartz's fighting Silver Cup registered her third consecutive grade II win on the Santa Anita turf this meeting, turning back favored Argentina in Sunday's $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Silver Cup rallied three wide off the far turn to seize the lead from Beautyandthebeast in upper stretch. After getting a clear lead inside the eighth pole, Silver Cup held off a furious charge from Argentina by a half-length in a time of 1:48 for the 1 1/8-mile event.
Silver Cup, who carried 118 pounds, and Argentina, who lugged 116, are both Irish-bred fillies.
Argentina, the 13-10 favorite ridden by Alex Solis, nosed Beautyandthebeast and Garrett Gomez for second. Sharp Lisa finished a head behind in fourth in her turf debut.
Espinoza and the 4-year-old Silver Cup have this down to a science. In all three of her victories at the meet – including the 1 1/8-mile San Gorgonio (gr. IIT) Jan. 8 and the one-mile Buena Vista (gr. IIT) Feb. 20 – Espinoza had Silver Cup perfectly positioned to track the pacesetters on the outside. Each time she has kicked in on the far turn and, after rallying for the lead, she held on with determination and won a narrow decision. She is the first to win these three races in the same year.
"She doesn't like to win by much, but it's enough to get to the wire first," Espinoza said. "She likes to be ridden hard the last eighth of a mile. All the way around, she does it all on her own, but in the last eighth I had to let her know that she had to run."
Espinoza said he flew all night from Dubai, where he competed in the World Cup program. After getting into Los Angeles at 2 p.m., he said he barely made it to Santa Anita in time to check in for the day's races.
With no one interested in taking the lead, Sharp Lisa set a tepid pace – :24 1/5, :49 and 1:13 – while under pressure before she was overtaken on the far turn by Beautyandthebeast and Silver Cup on the far outside. Silver Cup proved to be too much for Beautyandthebeast in the drive and just outlasted the flying Argentina, who was in front a couple of strides past the wire.
Argentina was last in the field of eight for the first half-mile before making progress on the far turn. She was sixth a furlong out and coming on strong.
Wildenstein Stable's Argentina, a daughter of Sadler's Wells making her United States debut for trainer Bobby Frankel, placed second behind Divine Proportions in June's Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (Fr-I) at Chantilly. Her last start came in August when she ran seventh in a group III race at Deauville.
"Maybe she beats us next time, but we beat her today," winning trainer Patrick Biancone beamed afterward.
Biancone said Silver Cup, a daughter of Almutawakel, is "all heart and all fight. If they go fast, they go slow, it doesn't matter to her. She's a fighter."
A group II winner in Italy in May, Silver Cup shipped to the U.S. for the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park in July, where she finished seventh. She lost her first four starts in the U.S. before beginning her winning streak in the San Gorgonio. She has won eight of 13 lifetime starts while earning $559,485.
The second choice, Silver Cup paid $7.60, $3.20, and $2.40. Argentina returned $3.20 and $2.40. The English import Beautyandthebeast, who rebounded from a 10th-place finish in the Buena Vista, was $3.20 to show.
It was also an encouraging effort for Sharp Lisa, a grade I winner last year on dirt who had been soundly defeated in her last four starts. After being passed on the turn and left behind, she rallied again in mid-stretch for Corey Nakatani and finished up well. Royal Copenhagen, Ticker Tape, Katdogawn, and Tivadare followed her. Halo Ola scratched.