Foxysox and Black Mamba, separated by a nose when they ran first and second, respectively, in last year's Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita, return in what should be an intriguing renewal of the $200,000 grass event April 18.
Grade I winner Black Mamba defeated Foxysox handily in their other two meetings last year, but the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Santa Barbara was just right last year for Foxysox. She bid in deep stretch to grab the lead from between horses and held on desperately over the late-running Black Mamba, who was blocked in the lane but surged in the final strides to just miss.
This will be the 2009 debut of New Zealand-bred Black Mamba, who enjoyed an outstanding year for Doubledown Stables and trainer John Sadler, earning $472,394. Foxysox, conditioned by Carla Gaines, has one win in three starts this season, the victory coming in the one-mile Tuzla Handicap (gr. IIIT) Jan. 25.
Black Mamba drew the 119-pound top weight assignment among nine older fillies and mares entered in the Santa Barbara, which headlines the program on the penultimate day of the 2008-09 Santa Anita season. She spots Foxysox just one pound in her first start since a fourth-place finish against males in the 12-furlong Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Dec. 6, when she finished two lengths behind the victorious Champs Elysees.
“We gave her a little break after her last race,” said Sadler, who trailed Mike Mitchell for leading trainer honors (38-35) with five days left to the stand. “A mile and a quarter is a good distance for her, so we’re looking forward to starting her back in her first race of the year.”
Following her loss in the Santa Barbara, Black Mamba went on to register come-from-behind wins in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park and Del Mar's John C. Mabee Handicap (gr. IT) in her next two starts, while Foxysox finished out of the money in each of those events.
Black Mamba, a hard-hitting 6-year-old daughter of Black Minnaloushe, will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario, and they will break from the far outside. She usually runs well following respites in her racing schedule and has been working strongly for her return. Black Mamba has a 4-6-3 lifetime mark in 23 starts with earnings of $662,171. After winning just once in 10 starts to begin her career in New Zealand, she had never been worse than third in her first 11 races for Sadler, nine of them grade I or grade II stakes.
The British-bred Foxysox comes off a brief layoff for Gaines and owner Warren B. Williamson. Following her victory in the Tuzla, the 6-year-old Foxhound mare returned Feb. 16 to run a game second to Jibboom in the off-the-turf Buena Vista Handicap (gr. II), also at one mile.
Regular rider Rafael Bejarano, closing in on his second straight Santa Anita riding title, will be aboard the earner of $711,118 from a 7-3-4 mark in 24 career starts.
Like Black Mamba, Foxysox did not thrive until coming to the United States at the end of 2005 following five losing efforts in England. She promptly won her first four starts in this country including a pair of grade III events.
Both of the leading contenders should get a realistic pace with Tizfiz in the field. The 5-year-old Tiznow mare won the 1 1/8-mile San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) in gate-to-wire fashion by a nose Jan. 4 for her first graded victory. She tired in the Buena Vista last time out, however, after dueling on the front end.
Magical Fantasy registered a 42-1 stunner in last summer’s Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) but has been winless in four starts since while facing top-caliber company on turf and synthetic surfaces. In her last two starts, she was beaten by Life Is Sweet in the La Canada (gr. II) and Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride.
Alex Solis rides the 4-year-old filly, who is trained by Paddy Gallagher. With a 2-4-0 record in 11 trips to the post, Magical Fantasy has banked $332,431. Owned by the partnership of David Bienstock, Paul Mandabach, and Charles Winner, she'll carry 117 in the Santa Barbara.
Bobby Frankel, the meet’s leading stakes winning trainer with eight victories, sends out British-bred Toque de Queda, who has been idle since last Oct 4 when fifth in Woodbine’s E. P. Taylor Stakes (Can-I). Stakes-placed in France, she previously ran third in Arlington Park’s Beverly D (gr. IT), her North American debut.
Victor Espinoza will be aboard the 5-year-old mare owned by Gary A. Tanaka. Toque de Queda owns an overall record of 2-1-4 in 12 starts for earnings of $204,594.
Ainamaa, fourth in the 2008 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar, makes her second start of the year for trainer Ben Cecil, who also entered the British-bred Step Softly, a European invader who returns to turf after going winless in two prior Santa Anita starts on Pro-Ride. Step Softly, a three-time winner in England and France who was group-placed as well, displayed some pace-making ability in several of her European races.
Grace Anatomy and Persian Express attempt to end lengthly losing streaks.
$200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Magical Fantasy (KY), 117, Alex O. Solis
2. Step Softly (GB), 112, Michael C. Baze
3. Toque de Queda (GB), 115, Victor Espinoza
4. Persian Express (KY), 110, Martin Garcia
5. Grace Anatomy (KY), 111, Tyler Baze
6. Tizfiz (KY), 117, Agapito Delgadillo
7. Ainamaa (KY), 114, Mike E. Smith
8. Foxysox (GB), 118, Rafael Bejarano
9. Black Mamba (NZ), 119, Joel Rosario