Pussycat Doll Purrs in Santa Monica Comeback

Pussycat Doll Purrs in Santa Monica Comeback
Photo: Benoit
Pussycat Doll and Garrett Gomez win the Santa Monica Handicap, Sunday at Santa Anita.
Even-money choice Pussycat Doll, returning from a layoff of nearly nine months, proved anything but vulnerable with her third grade I win in the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita Sunday.

Mike Pegram's homebred got a perfect stalking trip under regular rider Garrett Gomez, who settled the 5-year-old mare behind a four-race speed duel in the seven-furlong event. Racing off the rail, she split horses at the top of the stretch to overtake Secret Scheme and accelerated to win by four lengths in a time of 1:22 1/5 over a dull main track.

The win came on the anniversary of trainer Bob Baffert's first Thoroughbred victory with Flip A Star at Arizona's Rillito Downs in 1979.

"I've been in this too long," deadpanned Baffert, who got his first Quarter Horse win in 1971.

Pussycat Doll last ran in the seven-furlong Humana Distaff Handicap (gr. I) May 6 when she defeated a red-hot Behaving Badly at Churchill Downs by one length. It was only her second start of the 2006 campaign. She also won Santa Anita's La Brea (gr. I) at seven-eighths against 3-year-old fillies in December 2005. Each win followed long layoffs.

“When you have a really good one like this, you have to take care of it," Baffert said. "It takes patience. She looked really fantastic in the paddock. I had a feeling she had them over a barrel, but she’s just a very good mare.” 

She was working strongly for her return and obviously wasn't affected by her 121-pound high weight assignment in the field of 10. The bay daughter of Real Quiet--Hookedonthefeelin (Citidancer) has six wins overall in 11 starts with earnings of $657,831.

“Bob is the best at bringing them back off a layoff and the way she ran today, she proved it,” Pegram said afterward. “Now I know why we didn’t breed her.”

The victor broke well for Gomez but dropped back on the long run up the backstretch as Indian Flare, Secret Scheme, Win McCool, and Maryfield--hustled from the rail--raced four across the track through fractions of :22 and :44. On the turn, the front-runners began to break up, but Maryfield and Secret Scheme were still leading into the stretch. Pussycat Doll glided through an opening while three deep mid-stretch and quickly surged to the front, winning under Gomez's confident hand ride.

“She had been training really well and I got the opportunity to work her a couple of times, so I knew she was ready,” Gomez said. “I was able to find a good spot, and we ended up in great shape “

Nossa Cancao, ridden by Omar Berrio, picked up the pieces late to take second at 37-1, with Secret Schemes and Jon Court holding third.

Pussycat Doll paid $4.20, $3.20, and $3. Nossa Cancao, a Brazilian-bred 7-year-old mare, returned $22.20 and $11.20. Secret Scheme, stepping way up off an allowance win at Golden Gate Fields for Jerry Hollendorfer, was $7.40 to show.

Maryfield finished fourth, followed by Squallacious, Mazella, Political Web, Win McCool, Indian Flare and Gins Majesty.

(Chart, Equibase)

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