The millionaire Nashoba's Key, racing in second place behind a slow pace, punched in on the far turn and was in command leaving the three-sixteenth's pole en route to a 4 1/2-length victory in a time of 1:48.82 for the 1 1/8-mile distance. Just five contested the Santa Margarita, Santa Anita's most prestigious race for older fillies and mares, after three scratches that included the defection of the undefeated Zenyatta.
It was the third grade I victory for the 5-year-old Warren B. Williamson's California homebred mare who began her career last year with seven consecutive wins. Equally adept at racing on turf or synthetic track, Nashoba's Key is now four-for-four on all-weather surfaces for trainer Carla Gaines.
Nashoba's Key won the first three races of her career with Gomez in the irons. Gomez replaced Joe Talamo in the Santa Margarita because Gaines was unhappy with ride on Nashoba's Key in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf last time out. Nashoba's Key failed to respond in the stretch run of that race after falling well behind a slow pace.
“She’s gotten a lot better since I rode her last year," Gomez noted. "It took me almost a year to get back on her and I'm glad I did."
Gomez had Nashoba's Key in much closer contention this time while racing slightly off the rail as Dawn After Dawn, ridden by Victor Espinoza, tried to nurse the lead with soft fractions of :24.70, :50.03 and 1:14.27. Nashoba's Key, never far behind, launched her winning bid early on the final turn and gained command on the outside of a stubborn Dawn After Dawn nearing the lane. With a single crack from of the whip from Gomez mid-stretch, she galloped away under steady handling.
"I didn't expect too much of a pace," Gomez said. "So I lapped on the leader and just let her slow down and put it in my hands."
Dawn After Dawn, who won the La Canada (gr. II) on the front end in her last start Feb. 10, was no match for Nashoba's Key, who drew off impressively in the final furlong.
“She seems to love both surfaces (turf and synthetic)," Gaines said of the winner. "I’m not sure which one she prefers more. That makes it easy to pick races for her. It was a beautiful race for her, wasn’t it? The pace was very slow, but she was sitting right where she should be. When he pushed the button, she exploded.”
Gaines, however, was noncommittal on the next start for her California champion.
Dawn After Dawn held the runner-up spot with second choice Double Trouble splitting horses in the lane to gain third under Rafael Bejarano, who won four races earlier on the Santa Anita program. Good Mood and Sweet Belle trailed. Tyler Baze, aboard Sweet Belle, lodged an objection against Double Trouble and Bejarano for an altercation on the far turn, but stewards disallowed it.
Nashoba's Key, by Silver Hawk out of the Irish mare Nashoba, by Caerleon, earned $180,000 for her eighth lifetime win in 10 starts. She has now banked $1,252,090. The bay mare was undefeated heading into last year's Emirates Airlines Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) when she finished a bottled-up fourth on a soft Monmouth Park course.
Williamson said, "I've been at it (breeding horses) for 40 years and nobody comes close (to Nashoba's Key). It's been an amazing experience, a wonderful experience. You've got to enjoy it while it's going on because it likely won't be repeated."
Sent off at odds of 1-2, Nashoba's Key carried top weight of 122 and paid $3, $2.40 and $2.10. Dawn After Dawn, who finished three-quarters a length clear in second, returned $4.20 and $2.20. The Brazilian-bred Double Trouble, attempting to give trainer Bobby Frankel his first Santa Margarita win, was $2.10 to show.
Besides Zenyatta, Down and Say You Will also scratched.