Belmont Cat, a fire-breathing New Zealand-bred mare who disappointed her connections in her last start, foiled Bel Air Sizzle and 3-5 favorite Visit in a four-horse blanket finish in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT) VIDEO) on the Santa Anita turf course March 22.
The 4-year-old daughter of Felix the Cat, ridden perfectly by Joel Rosario, angled off the rail at the top of the stretch to overtake pacesetter In My Glory. The determined 9-1 outsider dueled with Satan's Circus to get the lead mid-stretch, then held off the fast-closing Bel Air Sizzle by a head. The rallying Visit was a neck farther back in third. It was a head to fourth-place finisher Satan's Circus in an exhilarating close to the 1 1/8-mile test for older fillies and mares.
The final time was 1:48.68 on a course rated good after rain overnight and earlier in the day.
Richard Templer's Doubledown Stables owns Belmont Cat, who is trained by John Sadler. These are the same connections that have enjoyed much success during the past year with a second New Zealand-bred mare, the grade I winning Black Mamba.
A listed stakes winner in her native country, Belmont Cat had two prior starts in the U.S. She won her American debut, a one-mile turf allowance at Hollywood Park Dec. 3, displaying a solid turn of foot while posting a one-length win as the favorite. She was well-backed in her next start as well, Santa Anita's nine-furlong San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) Jan. 4, but after a stalking trip and a strong bid from the quarter pole, she faded late to finish fifth. Sadler took his time in bringing the chestnut mare back to the races, and the freshening paid off with a big effort.
“She trained really, really well for her first race," Sadler said. "I was a little disappointed last time, but there wasn’t much pace and she was up close. I think she wants to sit back and kick, so we really tried to emphasize that today in this race. Joel has been working her the last couple of times, and I just told him to wait with her. We just wanted to get her back off the pace, because she really has a nice punch if you get her back and make her wait."
Sadler said Belmont Cat should be tough at 10 furlongs and she would be aimed for that distance at the upcoming Hollywood Park meet.
Belmont Cat rated nicely along the inside in third after breaking inward as In My Glory, pushed along by Exquisite, went to the lead and set a pace of :23.77 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.58 for the half and 1:12.62 for six furlongs. On the turn for home, Sharp Susan and, on the far outside, Satan's Choice, launched their assaults. With Bel Air Sizzle and Visit also winding up for the finish, Belmont Cat found enough room to angle between horses and eventually get the lead. With challengers closing in all around, she proved best of all under strong urging from Rosario.
"She was pulling me a little going to the far turn, but she was pretty relaxed most of the way and that’s why she finished so well," Rosario said. "I was a little worried when we were between horses late, but she really kicked it.”
The hard-luck Bel Air Sizzle, ridden by Rafael Bejarano for trainer Barry Abrams, was returning to action just one week after running a huge third in the Irish O'Brien Stakes on the hillside turf course, losing by a neck. She hesitated at the start of the Santa Ana and trailed the field for the first six furlongs, but was surging late on the outside for Bejarano.
Visit, group I placed in Great Britain but seeking her first U.S. win for Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel, was tugging jockey Garrett Gomez on the backstretch and was shuffled back on the final turn. But after angling out for the drive, she had dead aim on the leaders in the lane but ran out of time.
Belmont Cat earned $90,000 for her fourth lifetime win in 10 starts. She has banked $156,526 in her career. The winner, out of Morgan Glory, by the Australian sire Justice Prevails, was bred by Mr. and Mrs. B. & J.E. Thompson.
Sent off as the fifth choice in a field of seven, Belmont Cat carried 115 pounds to victory, three fewer than the top-weighted Visit. She paid $20.40, $9.20, and $3.80 while topping a $116.60 exacta. Bel Air Sizzle returned $6 and $3. Visit was $2.20 to show.
Satan's Circus, who looked like a winner in upper stretch with Joe Talamo, was followed by In My Glory, Sharp Susan and the New Zealand-bred Exquisite. Dawn After Dawn and Eissoai scratched.