After placing twice in grade I stakes in a three-month span, Free Flying Soul appears well spotted to earn her first graded win in the $100,000 Las Flores Handicap (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park on Easter Sunday April 4.
The Las Flores, at 6 1/2 furlongs on the Pro-Ride main track, is the only graded stakes in the nation on Easter. Eight older fillies and mares are entered in the race, which goes as the eighth at approximately 4:07 p.m. PDT.
Free Flying Soul, trained by Bruce Headley for owner Marsha Naify, is the 120-pound highweight. She spots her opponents from three to five pounds in an evenly matched field. The Kentucky-bred 5-year-old daughter of Quiet American has won five of 12 races in her career, including a trio of minor stakes since last October.
Free Flying Soul's best efforts, though, may have come in third-place finishes in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 6, in which she finished 4 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Informed Decision at odds of 35-1, and the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) Jan. 31, when she came home 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Gabby's Golden Gal. Both races, contested at seven furlongs, were at Santa Anita, where Free Flying Soul has won four of seven starts and has never been out of the money.
In her only start since the Santa Monica on March 10, Free Flying Soul challenged in the stretch but was denied, running a close third as the even-money choice in a six-furlong condition allowance dash. Free Flying Soul leads the Las Flores field in earnings with $319,986.
The field seems loaded with speed, all to her inside, which could work to Free Flying Soul's advantage from post seven. With regular rider Mike Smith aboard, she generally likes to rate just off the pace.
Hallelujah Trail, who finished a half-length in front of Free Flying Soul while second at 22-1 in that March 10 allowance, makes her stakes debut. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for John and Janene Maryanski, the 4-year-old daughter of Gilded Time raced exclusively in Northern California prior to that game effort.
The bay filly has done little wrong in her eight-race career, winning four times and finishing in the money in all but one start. Victor Espinoza takes the mount.
The only previous graded winner in the field is Jerry and Ann Moss' homebred Alpha Kitten, who is on the comeback road for trainer John Sadler. The Tale of the Cat filly won the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in January 2009, but was not seen again for 13 months, returning Feb. 24 with a runner-up finish to Emmy Darling as the favorite in a five-horse allowance race Feb. 24. This will be the first race since for Alpha Kitten, who drew post five and will be ridden again by Tyler Baze.
Sadler also entered Michael Talla's Mona de Momma, who has finished fourth in both of her starts this year and makes her graded-stakes bow after winning three times in seven tries in 2009. Mona de Momma finished just a nose behind Free Flying Soul in her last start.
Miss McCall returns to action for Mike Mitchell after most recently finishing fourth as the choice in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint Jan. 30. She won her prior three races by a combined 7 1/2 lengths.
Trainer Bob Baffert has entered a pair, Mother Ruth, who breaks from the rail, and Gilded Gem, who starts from the far outside. She's Cheeky, winless since December 2008, gets back on the synthetic track for Peter Eurton following a third-place finish in a one-mile allowance on turf March 3.
$100,000 Las Flores Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 6 1/2 Furlongs (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Mother Ruth (KY), M Garcia, 115, B Baffert
2. Mona de Momma (KY), J Rosario, 116, J W Sadler
3. She's Cheeky (KY), A O Solis, 116, P Eurton
4. Hallelujah Trail (KY), V Espinoza, 116, J Hollendorfer
5. Alpha Kitten (KY), T Baze, 116, J W Sadler
6. Miss McCall (FL), J Talamo, 117, M R Mitchell
7. Free Flying Soul (KY), M E Smith, 120, B Headley
8. Gilded Gem (KY), G K Gomez, 116, B Baffert