The renovated synthetic track at Santa Anita is playing quite a bit slower than it did before the main track was re-opened this weekend. But Dawn After Dawn, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was able to steal away to a leisurely lead while crawling to the quarter pole, then held off Say You Will in the stretch run to win by a measured one length. The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile test for 4-year-old fillies was 1:50.37, about 3-4 seconds slower than they were running the distance earlier in the meet.
Gomez said he was thrilled with the condition of the main track, which is now a combination of Cushion Track and Pro-Ride Racing synthetics.
“This is my first race over it, and I’m ecstatic about what I felt under me," he said. "It’s kind of like Keeneland, but not fluffed up as much. The horses hit it, and you can’t feel it. Hats off to Ian (Pearse, Pro-Ride founder); he’s done a great job.”
With the scratch of Tough Tiz's Sis, who ran second in the Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) a day earlier, Dawn After Dawn was clearly the most accomplished runner in the field, having placed third in Keeneland's Ashland Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack last April.
Winning trainer John Sadler also noted that she was the lone speed in the five-horse field.
Breaking from the rail, Gomez sent the Florida-bred filly directly to the lead and, while she drifted out a bit on the clubhouse turn, she was firmly in control from the start. She set slow fractions of :25.28, :50.56 and 1:15.08 as the Irish-bred Say You Will and Down tracked in second and third. Down gave way on the final turn, and Dawn After Dawn began to open up leaving the quarter pole after an easy 1:38.36 mile. The daughter of Successful Appeal led by three lengths mid-stretch and held sway under brisk hand urging from Gomez.
“We didn’t get a lot of pressure early," Gomez said. "I wasn’t in a wrestling match with her, and she wasn’t overly pulling. We actually got the first three quarters slower than I wanted. She really skipped over this track.”
Say You Will cut into the lead in the final sixteenth of a mile for David Flores to finish a clear second by one length over her Darley stablemate Caressive. Down and Bahia Rosa completed the order.
Ike and Dawn Thrash's Dawn After Dawn ran fourth in last spring's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) when part of Wesley Hawley's stable. She has won two of four starts on synthetic tracks and has never been out of the money over a manufactured surface. She was transferred to Sadler in Southern California last fall.
”They (the owners) thought her best race last year was in the Ashland when she was a good third on Polytrack at Keeneland, so Mr. Thrash called me up from Mississippi last summer and said we’d like to send this filly out for a campaign in California," Sadler explained. "It was a nice call, I was delighted, because she already had good form when she got here, and she’s been what we were hoping she’d be.
"She fit the program in the sense that we have a 4-year-old filly series here, she was 3, turning 4, and she had already shown herself well at Keeneland. The majority of (Thrash's) horses are at the Fair Grounds, but I think if he gets some good ones back there, he might be sending them out."
Dawn After Dawn was on the lead in her last start, the El Encino Stakes (gr. II), before fading to fourth, 5 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Zenyatta. The victory in the La Canada, her fourth in 14 lifetime starts, was worth $120,000 and bumped her earnings total to $334,373. Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds bred the bay filly, who is out of Jhenais Jewel, by Sword Dance.
"We didn’t want to be in front, but there was just no speed," Sadler said. "Last time, she was in front and kind of pulled hard. We’ll campaign her here in California, but we’re going to have to take on the older mares since this is the last 4-year-old race."
Sadler said a possibility is the $300,000 Santa Margarita (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles on March 9.
The winner carried 116 pounds to victory and paid $4, $2.80, and $2.20.
Eoin Harty saddled the second and third-place finishers, Say You Will and Caressive, who are both by A.P. Indy. Say You Will, who has two wins and three runner-up showings in six starts, returned $3 and $2.80 in her stakes debut. Caressive also making her stakes debut, was $3.20 to show as the Darley entry was split in the wagering.