Course specialist Gotta Have Her got up in the final stride by a nose over Reba Is Tops to win the $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO), the Easter Day feature on the Santa Anita hillside April 12.
Tyler Baze, who won his third successive race on the Santa Anita program, overcame a stumble at the start to rally the 5-year-old daughter of Royal Academy to victory for Richard and Sue Ann Masson's Green Lantern Stables and trainer Jenine Sahadi. It was the first graded stakes win for the bay mare, who is undefeated in three starts on Santa Anita's downhill course.
Sixth of seven at the top of the lane, Gotta Have Her stormed down the center of the track to nip Reba Is Tops, who had put away the 7-10 choice Tuscan Evening in deep stretch and appeared headed for victory. The final time for the about 6 1/2-furlong distance was an excellent 1:11.92 on firm going.
Expected to contest the early pace with Irish-bred Tuscan Evening, who was seeking her third straight win over the layout, Gotta Have Her was instead last for the first quarter mile after her unfortunate start.
"She kind of stumbled at the start, but I wasn't worried," Baze said. "She was the best."
Tuscan Evening, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was in command early, carving an opening quarter-mile in :22.02 and the half in :42.02, but with Reba Is Tops and Joe Talamo pressing on her outside. Dawn After Dawn, in third, appeared to be in excellent position as the field reached the bottom of the hill and began to square off for the stretch battle.
With Gotta Have Her still languishing near the back, Reba Is Tops was on top of the favorite as they fought down the lane. Reba Is Tops began to edge away in the final furlong. By that point, Gotta Have Her had advanced to fourth and was in full stride for the wire. Under strong right-handed urging from Baze, she got there just in time.
"When she stumbled I just had to sit there and let her tell me what she wanted to do and point her in the right direction," Baze said.
Sahadi said Gotta Have Her has had problems leaving the gate in the past.
"There's always a concern," she said. "Coming out of the gate, she always does a little skip and a bobble. Three races ago, she lost a shoe coming out of the gate."
Reba Is Tops took second by three-quarters of a length over Tuscan Evening, who had won both of her prior U.S. starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. With a victory, Gomez could have tied the Santa Anita record for stakes victories in a season with 19. There's a week left in the meet, but Gomez is now working at Keeneland full time and is not expected to race anymore at Santa Anita during the current stand.
Dawn After Dawn, after hanging in the homestretch, settled for fourth.
This was the sixth lifetime win for Gotta Have Her in 18 starts and boosted her earnings to $396,023. The winning purse was $60,000. Four of her wins have come on the Santa Anita turf with one second and two thirds in eight tries. Gotta Have Her was coming off a classified allowance win by 1 1/2 lengths over Reba Is Tops over the course March 6.
Sahadi said she wasn't sure where Gotta Have Her would run next.
Nursery Place and Robert T. Manfuso bred the winner in Kentucky. She is out of Winnowing, by Rahy.
Sent off as the fourth choice, Gotta Have carried 117 pounds and paid $13.40, $6 and $3.20. Reba Is Tops, making her second start for trainer Mark Glatt after an absence of 9 1/2 months, returned $10 and $4.20. The $2 exacta was worth $148.40. Tuscan Evening was $2.10 to show in her American stakes debut.
"The last couple of races, she’s been able to kind of scoot clear of some of them, coming down the hill a little more comfortable," Gomez said of Tuscan Evening. "Today, she had one on her hip the whole way (Reba Is Tops), kind of pushing her along. When I came across the dirt, she went with that other mare, but the other mare just quickened a little more than she could. But she ran a really good race.”
Dawn After Dawn was followed by Gorgeous Goose, Macadamia, Trouble Maker and Star of Whitney. Bel Air Sizzle scratched.