The result seemed never in doubt as odds-on choice Ventura shook off stablemate Jibboom with a furlong to run en route to a measured one-length win, giving trainer Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms the exacta in the $300,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Jan. 31.
Ventura, making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita Oct. 24, did not have to deal with Indian Blessing, the champion female sprinter of 2008. Indian Blessing was scratched, as expected, by trainer Bob Baffert, who is pointing her to the Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) in Dubai at the end of March.
"She hadn't been out for a while," Frankel said of Ventura, who defeated Indian Blessing by four lengths in a scintillating Breeders' Cup effort Oct. 24. "At one-to-five (odds), you get a little nervous."
With regular rider Garrett Gomez aboard, Ventura sat fourth as Baroness Thatcher set a smart early pace from the far outside. Baroness Thatcher tired, however, before reaching the quarter pole and Jibbom got the lead over She's cheeky heading into the homestretch. Gomez, who had advanced on the turn with Ventura, shook her reins at the top of the lane and Ventura responded.
She dueled with Jibboom down the lane but was in control in the final sixteenth while under firm handling. The clocking was 1:21.61 in the seven-furlong event for older fillies and mares.
“She was traveling beautifully for me," Gomez said. "It felt like I had a loaded gun the whole time. The only reason I had to get into her a little was that when she makes the lead, she thinks her job is done. That’s the only reason she got beat in the race at Hollywood Park (July 5 in the grade II CashCall Mile). I’ve learned that I’ve just got to spank her a little bit and that way, she knows she’s not done.”
Quarter-mile fractions on the Pro-Ride racing surface were :23.22 and :45.81.
A grade I winner on grass when she captured Belmont Park's Just A Game last June, Ventura posted her eighth lifetime win in 16 starts while boosting her earnings to $539,470 with the purse of $180,000. The daughter of Chester House--Estala, by Be My Guest, has now won four of five starts on synthetic tracks.
“I was nervous at that price, and she hadn’t been out in a while, but I was satisfied with the way it turned out," Frankel said. "It worked out perfect. I didn’t really trainer her (Ventura) that hard, and you’re always a little nervous being away three months. If she’s 10-1, I wouldn’t have been so nervous.”
Frankel said Ventura could be pointed to the Vinery Madison Stakes, a race she won last year at seven furlongs on the Keeneland Polytrack April 9. Formerly a grade II race, it has been improved to a grade I this year.
"From there, I might have to put her back on the grass,” he said. He ruled out a trip to Dubai to face Indian Blessing in the Golden Shaheen, however.
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds as the 3-10 favorite in the field of six, Ventura paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10 to win. Second choice ($3, $2.40) Jibboom was a clear second by 2 1/4 lengths over She's Cheeky ($2.80), ridden by Alex Solis. Tizzy's Tune ran on for fourth, with Baroness Thatcher and So Long Sonoma far back. In addition to Indian Blessing, Wake Up Maggie was also scratched.
Ventura spotted her rivals from seven to nine pounds.
This is the second Santa Monica triumph for Frankel, who won it in 2000 with Honest Lady.