Gabby's Golden Gal returned to the 3-year-old form that saw her win the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) last spring when she captured the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Jan. 31.
Jockey Martin Garcia earned his first grade I victory aboard the Bob Baffert-trained Gabby's Golden Gal, who went off at odds of 11-1 in the seven-furlong Santa Monica.
Always close to the leaders in the Pro-Ride test for older fillies and mares, Gabby's Golden Gal loomed up three wide on the outside of Free Flying Soul and Czechers in upper stretch. After getting control past the eighth pole, she finished up gamely to register her first win since the one-mile Acorn, which she took in front-running fashion at Belmont Park June 6.
The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly returned from a six-month layoff to run a puzzling seventh in her previous start, the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Dec. 26.
The winning margin in the Santa Monica was 1 1/4 lengths. The final time was 1:21.25.
“It’s an amazing thing what she did today," said Garcia after his initial ride on Gabby's Golden Gal. "Last time she needed the race, and she was rank. Bob said the main thing today was to make her relax and then to make my move. Today, I had an opportunity to keep her outside of those two speed horses (Free Flying Soul and Czechers) and she relaxed very well. When I asked her, she just took off. This is my first grade one and I want to dedicate it to Bob. He’s giving me a lot of chances.”
Juddmonte's Proviso, the 2-1 favorite in the field of 11, surged in the stretch for Rafael Bejarano, but could not catch Gabby's Golden Gal. Free Flying Soul and Mike Smith finished another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
Czechers grabbed the early lead for Chantal Sutherland and milked a :23.58 opening quarter-mile before Free Flying Soul came through an opening at the rail to take the lead in a deliberate half-mile time of :46.31. The slow fractions helped ensure that late runners such as Evita Argentina, who won the La Brea, and Diamondrella would not be able to close effectively.
Instead, it was Gabby's Golden Gal, who was second early before dropping back to fourth briefly on the turn, and the stalking Proviso that had the best crack at the leaders in the home stretch. Free Flying Soul had a narrow advantage mid-stretch and battled back along the inside before giving way in the closing stages.
Czechers held on for fourth by a neck, followed by a second Baffert trainee, Gilded Gem, Made for Magic, Evita Argentina, Cherryblossommiss, Captain's Lover, Diamondrella and Sweet August Moon.
Owned by her breeder, Arnold Zetcher, Gabby's Golden Gal earned $150,000 for her fourth lifetime win in nine starts. The dark bay or brown filly is out of Gabriellina Giof, by the Irish stallion Ashkalani.
“She just needed the race," Baffert said of the La Brea effort. "I thought she was training well enough to win it, but she just laid an egg that day. She came back, worked well, I took her over to Hollywood Park, she worked really great there. Today, I was just hoping she didn’t go too fast. She picked up the bit.
"Mike (Smith) was committed to the other filly (Free Flying Soul), so I thought I’ll give Martin a chance, and he came through for me. This filly has always shown me signs of greatness, like Indian Blessing. That’s why we were just baffled after the La Brea. I told Arnold, ‘You know what? I guess I didn’t have her as tight as I thought I did.' Maybe I was too easy on her, but it’s demanding to run on this surface off a layoff. Today she showed what she could really do. She showed that grade I form again.”
Sent off as the sixth choice in the large field, Gabby's Golden Gal carried 118 pounds and paid $25.20, $10.80 and $6.80 while topping an exacta worth $98 with the favorite.
Proviso, who returned $4 and $3, was cutting back in distance after finishing a creditable fourth in the nine-furlong Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) in her most recent start Nov. 6. This was the 5-year-old Great Britain-bred's first start for trainer Bill Mott after being with the late Bobby Frankel and Andre Fabre previously.
Free Flying Soul, third-place finisher in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) last fall, saw a two-race victory skein ended for trainer Bruce Headley. She paid $3.60 to show.
Tuscan Evening scratched.