The $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Jan. 2 could not have come up any better for Cat by the Tale, who seized the lead from pacesetter Century Park on the final turn and burst home to a 2 1/2-length victory on the turf course.
First, morning-line favorite Life Is Sweet was scratched early in the day after tying up a bit following morning exercise prior to her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) two months ago. Then, early on in the race, the saddle slipped on one of the leading contenders in the 1 1/8-mile event for older fillies and mares, Treat Gently. And race favorite Diamondrella showed little in the homestretch.
Add to that a moderate pace allowing Cat by the Tale, ridden patiently by Joel Rosario, to sit handily just off the front-running Century City, and the result was an easy victory for the 5-year-old Tale of the Cat mare trained by Neil Drysdale.
Rosario rode Cat by the Tale out in 11.51 seconds for the final furlong with steady handling, showing no ill effects from a last-race spill he experienced a day earlier.
Cat by the Tale picked up her first graded stakes win for Drysdale and owner Raymond Keogh of Ireland while completing the nine-furlong distance in 1:48.17.
Breaking from the far outside post in the field of seven, she was always in superb position for Rosario while tracking Century Park, who went to the front from the rail for Tyler Baze and led the way through soft quarter-mile splits of :23.81, :48.94 and 1:13.34. Leaving the quarter pole, Cat by the Tale took a slim advantage and sprinted for home after reaching the top of the lane in front. She was in command mid-stretch after Century Park had given way and was never threatened from there.
"I didn’t want anybody to get an easy lead, and I wanted to make sure I put some pressure on," Rosario said. "She got to the three eighths pole really easy. I wanted to make the lead at the quarter pole and she did the rest. She was impressive.”
Treat Gently, with Rafael Bejarano sitting high on her neck to maintan control, outfought Rosa Grace and Joe Talamo for second by a head, with Teamgeist finishing a nose farther back in fourth.
Diamondrella, the 122-pound high weight after scoring two grade I victories last year, was nosed for fourth as the 2-1 favorite. Lavender Sky and Century Park trailed.
Cat by the Tale, who was transferred to Southern California last year after previously competing in Ireland, earned her third win in four starts on the Santa Anita turf. Third in the one-mile Las Palmas (gr. IIT) at Oak Tree in the fall, she was coming off a third-place finish in Hollywood Park's Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) on the Cushion Track Dec. 5. Her two prior grass wins over the course came against allowance company.
“She had a perfect trip," Drysdale noted. "When he (Rosario) asked her, she cut away. I just told him to track the speed horse. It was pretty obvious that Baze was going to go (to the lead) from the one (post position), and I said, ‘Just track her,’ which he did.”
Drysdale was unsure of the next stop for Cat by the Tale. “One step at a time," he said. "She does seem to be improving, though.”
The chestnut mare improved her career mark to 5-1-5 in 17 starts with earnings of $248,258.
Bred in Kentucky by Tom Van Meter, Doug Hendrickson, and Michael Lowenbaum, Cat by the Tale is out of the Irish mare St Clair Ridge, by Indian Ridge.
Sent off as the third choice, Cat by the Tale carried 115 pounds and paid $7.60, $3.60 and $2.80, topping a $26.40 exacta. Juddmonte Farms' British homebred Treat Gently, making her first start for trainer Bill Mott, returned $3.60 and $3. Rosa Grace, also bred in Great Britain, was $5.40 to show for trainer Ben Cecil.
Also scratched was Czechers, who is entered in the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) on Jan. 3.