Spellbound made trainer Richard Mandella's quick cross-country trip worthwhile when she came from far out of it to capture the $200,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) by a neck at 16-1 odds Jan. 19 at Santa Anita Park.
The Southern California-based Mandella was in South Florida the previous night for the Eclipse Awards to celebrate Beholder winning the outstanding 3-year-old filly honor for the Hall of Fame trainer's longtime client B. Wayne Hughes and Spendthrift Farm. But he was back in plenty of time the Santa Anita card Sunday.
Spellbound, a daughter of Bernardini owned by Ramona Bass, Claiborne Farm, and Adele Dilschneider, earned her first stakes win. She became the 25th stakes winner for her popular sire.
With Victor Espinoza aboard, Spellbound completed the 1 1/16-mile event for 4-year-old fillies in 1:43.14 on a fast track to give Mandella his initial La Canada victory.
"She's always been a talented filly, but was a little backwards early in her first races, rough in the gate, just not doing things right," Mandella said. "Just little by little, she's come around. She trained really well for this race, an allowance race didn't go, so we went here."
Let Faith Arise finished second, with Ondine a neck farther back in third. Favorites Fiftyshadesofhay (fourth) and Broken Sword (fifth), both sent off at odds of 6-5, finished out of the money in an oddly run race.
Broken Sword, the 6-5 choice in the field of seven, sprinted to a two-length lead in the opening quarter-mile with Ondine in pursuit. Those two separated from the rest on the backstretch while unfurling swift fractions of :22.86, :45.47, and 1:09.66. Fiftyshadesofhay, squeezed at the start by Broken Sword, got away poorly to race in sixth. Spellbound lagged well behind the others, with some 17 lengths to make up after half a mile.
"I knew they were going fast on the front end, but I just wanted to focus on my own filly," Espinoza said. "I don't want to force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. She was doing it comfortably so I didn't do much."
The hot tempo caught up with Broken Sword, who was under pressure coming into the stretch and weakened as Ondine and Martin Garcia took the lead. Ondine inched away at mid-stretch to lead by one length over the stalking Let Faith Arise but was also tiring as Let Faith Arise and Corey Nakatani caught her and forged a narrow lead in the final sixteenth. But she, too, had little left to give as she approached the wire.
That created an opportunity for Spellbound, who began to make up ground rounding the far turn and charged four wide into the homestretch. She rallied under urging from Espinoza and caught Let Faith Arise in the final couple of strides for an unlikely victory.
"Turning for home I knew we had a lot of ground to make up, and the wire was getting closer and closer," Espinoza said. "But then she started running at her high speed."
Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and Darley Stud, Spellbound was a $260,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2011 by Roberta Scott from the Warrendale Sales contingent. The bay filly brought $190,000 at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale the previous year when purchased by P.D.Q. Racing from consignor Select Sales, agent. The winner is the first foal out of the unraced Tale of the Cat mare Layreebelle.
Spellbound was overlooked in the wagering after finishing a well-beaten sixth, 12 1/2 lengths behind Broken Sword in the Bayakoa Stakes (gr. II) Dec. 7 on the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park. She likely needed that race as it was her first in eight months. She had run well in three previous starts while routing at Santa Anita last winter with victories in a maiden special weight and first-level allowance prior to a good fourth in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I).
"I'd say that (she likes this dirt course)," Mandella said. "She came here and won a couple and then I gave her a break and took her to Hollywood. She didn't run good on the synthetic over there, and I think she's just a real dirt horse."
The victory was Spellbound's third in eight lifetime races and boosted her career earnings to $208,750.
Carrying 118 pounds, Spellbound paid $35, $12.80, and $7.80 while keying a $360.80 exacta with 14-1 shot Let Faith Arise, who returned $11.80 and $7. Ondine paid $4.60 to show while finishing half a length in front of Fiftyshadesofhay.
Broken Sword, the 123-pound topweight following her 4 1/4-length Bayakoa win, was followed by Rathbaun and Oscar Party to complete the order of finish.