Always a Princess reprised her front-running victory over champion Blind Luck last month when she kicked away at the head of the stretch and scored a convincing 3 1/4-length win in the $147,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 13 at Santa Anita (VIDEO).
The victory marked a return to the winner's circle in a stakes event for jockey Martin Garcia, who missed 3 1/2 months of action with getting his visa paperwork approved in his native Mexico. Garcia regained the mount on Arnold Zetcher's homebred Always a Princess from trainer Bob Baffert after Rafael Bejarano took the call on Blind Luck, the 2010 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly.
"Martin's very good at getting a speed horse on the lead and putting them to sleep," Baffert said afterward. "Martin works hard. He deserves the win. This filly is quicker than all these horses, and if she gets the right pace, she’ll just keep going."
Baffert, red-hot earlier in the meet, snapped a 25-race losing stretch going back to Jan. 28. He said Always a Princess will be pointed to the $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles March 12.
"Now that Zenyatta’s gone, everybody can stay home," he quipped.
In another small stakes field at Santa Anita, just a quartet of 4-year-old fillies contested the 1 1/8-mile La Canada after the scratch of Fashion Trend. Blind Luck went off as the slight 11-10 favorite, with Always a Princess pegged at 6-5, even though Always a Princess dominated her rival in a similar scenario in the El Encino Stakes (gr. II) Jan.16.
Garcia was able to dictate the pace with Always a Princess, who took the lead quickly on the outside of Harmonious on the speed-favoring main track and slowed it down. Leading on the backstretch by 1 1/2 lengths, she maintained the advantage around the far turn and disposed of Harmonious, a dual grade I winner on turf, at the top of the lane.
Bejarano, eschewing Blind Luck's deep-closing style to stay within about four lengths behind the pacesetter for most of the trip, swung to the the outside for the drive. But there was no catching Always a Princess, who unleashed a power burst under strong handling by Garcia to put the race away by mid-stretch.
"I just let her break by herself and tried to get along with her," Garcia said. "When I asked her, she just took off."
Fractions for the race were a ponderous :24.67 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.66 for the half, and 1:12.41 for six furlongs. Always a Princess covered the final three furlongs in just under 36 seconds, completing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.36.
“I wasn’t sure about (her getting) the mile and an eighth, and I thought (Harmonious) might want to pressure her a little bit more, but she just sat off of us and Martin slowed them down," Baffert said. "By slowing it down, it takes a lot of those horses out of their game. They have a nice horse (Blind Luck), but we have a faster horse and she can sprint away from them. It took Blind Luck completely out of her game.”
Blind Luck finished a clear second for the fourth consecutive race, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Harmonious, who made her debut on a dirt track in the La Canada with Joel Rosario riding. Life Well Lived trailed.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had no comment about Blind Luck's performance after the race.
Always a Princess, a daughter of Leroidesanimaux, beat four opponents in taking the El Encino by 3 1/2 lengths with Bejarano riding. She won the Indiana Oaks (gr. III) on a sloppy Hoosier Park track last October for Garcia, who was last aboard the good-looking chestnut filly for a third-place showing in the Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs during Breeders' Cup weekend.
Out of the Ashkalani mare Gabriellina Giof, the Kentucky-bred Always a Princess has a record of 5-1-1 and earnings of $516,048 in just nine starts.
Always a Princess paid $4.40 and $2.20 and topped an $8 exacta. Blind Luck returned $2.20. There was no show wagering. The first three finishers each carried 123 pounds.