Jockey Chantal Sutherland earned her second grade II victory in as many days when she guided 29-1 outsider Pretty Unusual from well back to win the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Jan. 17. The champion filly Stardom Bound rallied late to get up for second as the favorite, 1 1/4 lengths behind Pretty Unusual (VIDEO).
The Woodbine-based Sutherland, now in her third winter season at Santa Anita, earned her first graded stakes win at the track a day earlier with the 3-year-old filly Amen Hallelujah in the Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II).
"That was amazing," a jubilant Sutherland told HRTV in the winner's circle. "Let the good times roll!"
It was the first graded stakes win for the California-bred Pretty Unusual, who is trained by Barry Abrams for owner and co-breeder Madeline Auerbach and partners Marie Goda and Jack Klugman. She paid $61.40 for the victory, teaming with the 9-5 favorite for a $263.60 exacta.
Pretty Unusual was seventh in the field of 10 before rallying on the inside of Stardom Bound on the final turn in the 1 1/16-mile El Encino. While Mike Smith, aboard Stardom Bound, opted to make his bid on the far outside and went five wide into the lane, Sutherland and Pretty Unusual snaked their way around traffic and waited for room in the lane. Pretty Unusual still had about a half-dozen lengths to make up in upper stretch but Sutherland drove her through an opening between horses approaching the eighth pole.
The 4-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat swept past the pacesetting Freedom Star, who had opened a sizable three-length lead, in deep stretch and won going away under good handling. The final time was 1:43.72 over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride main track.
“I thought I’d be closer, but it felt like they were going pretty fast going to the first turn," Sutherland said. "It worked out fine, because we had a good position and my filly settled nice.
"When we turned for home, all of a sudden the traffic spread and we were able to get through and I could see Martin (Garcia on Freedom Star) on the lead and I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna catch him.’ I could hear Mike (Smith, aboard Stardom Bound) chirping but I had a lot left. It’s been a great weekend.”
Stardom Bound, the nation's champion juvenile filly of 2008 and disappointing as a 3-year-old, made an encouraging late run to pip Freedom Star for second by a head.
"Once I got her out, I was happy to see her run her race," Smith said of Stardom Bound.
Justwhistledixie, an East Coast invader from the Bill Mott barn who vied with Stardom Bound for post-time favoritism, ended up fourth.
Freedom Star, off at 19-1, carved moderate quarter-mile fractions of :23.56, :48.48 and 1:12.70 and pulled away from pace challengers Spirit Seeker and Best Lass on the far turn to gain a substantial lead in the homestretch. She led by three lengths at the eighth pole, but the Bob Baffert-trained filly could not quite last the distance under Martin Garcia.
The race was delayed for a couple of minutes when Dave's Revenge reared up in the starting gate and was injured, prompting a veterinarian's scratch.
Pretty Unusual was coming off a second-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance heat at Santa Anita Jan. 2, which was her first start in more than five months. The bay filly, who was also bred by David Abrams, last won in a state-bred stakes, the $200,000 Melair, at Hollywood Park April 25. Out of Sci Fi Kin, who is by the Brazilian-bred stallion Siphon, Pretty Unusual has won three of 10 lifetime starts with earnings of $249,632. The El Encino victory was worth $90,000.
The payoff may have been big, but trainer Abrams said he was not surprised.
“Absolutely not. She’s a good horse," he said. "She wasn’t ready to run last time; she just got beat going a mile and a sixteenth. Her grandmother that Jack (Klugman) owned (Akinemod) was a great horse. She was a champion California horse. I wasn’t surprised. Everything is working.”
Pretty Unusual carried 119 pounds -- three fewer than the top-weighted Stardom Bound and Justwhistledixie -- and paid $61.40, $18.40 and $9 across the board as the second-longest shot in the field. Stardom Bound, now in the Rick Dutrow Jr. stable, lost for the first time in five tries at Santa Anita and returned $4.20 and $3.20. Freedom Star, in her graded stakes debut, was $8.80 to show.
It was three lengths to Justwhistledixie in fourth, a nose better than Spirit Seeker in fifth. The second and third choices in the wagering were both making their synthetic track debuts. Then came Dream Empress, Gumption, Best Lass, Rose Diamond and Will O Way, who took up severely at the five-eighths pole and was eased in the stretch.
Eloquently and Gilded Gem also were scratched.