A dozen older fillies and mares take a shot at grade I glory in a deeply contentious renewal of the $300,000 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita Feb. 14.
The 1 1/16-mile Valentine's Day feature has eight graded or group winners in the field. Trainer Bobby Frankel, seeking his third consecutive Santa Maria victory, saddles a pair in Juddmonte Farms' British invader Visit, who switches from grass to Santa Anita's Pro-Ride main track, and two-time grade I winner Country Star, owned by Darley Stable.
The field also includes Leah's Secret, a multiple grade II winner who was a decisive victor of the Sunshine Millions Distaff Jan. 24; and Briecat and Tizfiz, who come into the Santa Maria off grade II victories in Southern California.
A 6-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Tiger Ridge, WinStar Farm’s Leah’s Secret was headed for the breeders’ shed, but her impressive 2 1/4-length Sunshine Millions victory at Santa Anita, which sent her earnings over the $1.1 million mark, has altered her immediate future. Leah's Secret won the Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and Aqueduct's Top Flight Handicap (gr. II), both on dirt, to close out her 2007 campaign.
“This mare has obviously gotten very good here the last few months,” said Mike “Whitey” McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher.
“The plan was for her to be bred, but I’m not sure,” McCarthy added. “I think they put their heads together and decided if she keeps doing as well as she’s been doing to keep her around for a little while longer.”
Eibar Coa, who has ridden Leah's Secret in her two most recent wins, will return to California to ride the 120-pound high weight in the Santa Maria. They will break from post 11. Leah’s Secret has a 9-4-2 record in 26 starts and her record over synthetics is 3-2-1 in seven starts.
Leah’s Secret will be backed by two stablemates from the Pletcher arsenal, Roshani and Bsharpsonata. Each has won seven of 14 career starts, and each was assigned 117 pounds.
Jayeff B Stables’ Roshani won the Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) on grass last year at Santa Anita. The 6-year-old Fantastic Light mare was victorious in an allowance race at Keeneland in her only previous race over a synthetic surface. A multiple-graded stakes winner, Roshani has earned $481,300.
Bsharpsonata, a 4-year-old Pulpit filly owned by Clover Leaf Farms II, is coming off a solid third-place finish behind Indian Blessing and Ginger Pop in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) at seven furlongs Dec. 27. Over synthetics, the bay has posted a 1-1-1 record in three starts, including a minor stakes win at Hollywood Park in the fall. She has earned $562,610.
Frankel, who won the last two editions of the Santa Maria with Sugar Shake and and Double Trouble, appears well positioned once more with a pair of sharp 4-year-olds.
The British-bred Visit was a fast-closing third in Hollywood Park’s Matriarch (gr. IT) in her last start. A two-time group III winner at home, the daughter of Oasis Dream ran a close fourth at Santa Anita in Oak Tree’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) in her U.S. debut. After leading in the homestretch, she wound up 1 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Forever Together.
Garrett Gomez has the mount on Visit, who breaks from post 10 with 118 pounds. While racing in England she captured the Princess Margaret Stakes (Eng-III) at Ascot as a 2-year-old and the Oak Tree Stakes (Eng-III) at Goodwood as a 3-year-old. All nine of Visit's previous starts have come on grass.
Country Star is seeking her first stakes win since capturing both the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) and the Alcibiades (gr. I) at Keeneland over synthetic surfaces in 2007. The daughter of Empire Maker was second most recently as the 6-5 favorite in Santa Anita’s El Encino Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 18. She lost to Life Is Sweet, who will run in the Feb. 15 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) for 4-year-old fillies instead of the Santa Maria.
Joel Rosario will be aboard Country Star, who tired in the El Encino, her first start in five months. Assigned 116 pounds, she will be making her eighth lifetime start Feb. 14 after having compiled a 3-2-0 record for earnings of $668,865.
The speedy Briecat, a 4-year-old Adcat filly trained by Vladimir Cerin for Holly and David Wilson, brings a three-race win streak into the race. She won the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) in her last start in gate-to-wire fashion by more than two lengths at odds of 13-1, bettering the 11-10 favorite Model, who also runs in the Santa Maria.
Tizfiz has back-to-back stakes wins for trainer Rafael DeLeon, including an upset victory by a nose over Santa Maria rival Marzelline in the San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) on Santa Anita's turf course Jan. 4.
Mistical Plan tuned up following a five-month layoff with a fourth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Doug O'Neill for J. Paul Reddam, the 5-year-old Game Plan mare won the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) at Calder last July, but has started just twice since then.
Santa Teresita and Island Hop complete the field.
$300,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Briecat(FL), 115, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
2. Tizfiz (KY), 117, Agapito Delgadillo
3. Country Star (KY), 116, Joel Rosario
4. Mistical Plan (CA), 116, Victor Espinoza
5. Marzelline (IRE), 115, Tyler Baze
6. Roshani (KY), 117, Patrick Husbands
7. Bsharpsonata (FL), 117, David R. Flores
8. Santa Teresita (KY), 114, Joseph Talamo
9. Island Hop (KY), 112, Chantal Sutherland
10. Visit (GB), 118, Garrett K. Gomez
11. Leah's Secret (FL), 120, Eibar Coa
12. Model (KY), 116, Rafael Bejarano