Fashion Plate, staked to an early lead by jockey Gary Stevens, repulsed a bid from 6-5 favorite Ria Antonia to record her second grade I victory in a row in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) April 5 (VIDEO).
Winner of the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) in similar front-running fashion Feb. 1, Arnold Zetcher and Michael Tabor's Fashion Plate prevailed stylishly by 1 1/4 lengths in a solid time of 1:42.97 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast Santa Anita Park main track.
Ria Antonia, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner making her first start for trainer Bob Baffert, held second. It was 3 3/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Bajan, who rallied late to edge the weakening Honey Ride.
Simon Callaghan trains the winning daughter of Old Fashioned who was bred in Kentucky by Springland Farm and Fox Hill Farms out of the Citidancer mare Miss Puzzle. The dark bay filly was sold for $340,000 as a 2-year-old in training last April by the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.
Fashion Plate, the 2-1 second choice in the field of seven sophomore fillies, has won three races in a row as she heads into the May 2 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
"I think for now, it (Kentucky Oaks) would make sense," Callaghan said. "She's getting better almost as we stretch out in distance. She's a really smart filly and she relaxes well."
Fashion Plate paid $6.20, $3.40, and $2.80 under equal weights of 122 pounds. Ria Antonia returned $2.80 and $2.40, completing a chalky $15.80 exacta. Bajan paid $6.20.
The big question coming into the Oaks for Fashion Plate was how she would handle the distance after weakening late in the one-mile Las Virgenes Feb. 1 while holding on tenaciously. But allowed to relax after breaking on top from her rail post for Stevens, Fashion Plate had plenty of response when challenged in upper stretch by Ria Antonia.
Fashion Plate stepped quarter mile fractions of :23.75, :47.38, and 1:11.12 while leading Honey Ride, then left the favorite behind late after completing the mile in 1:36.42.
"I've won a few races like this in my day," said Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey whose last win in the Santa Anita Oaks came in 1990 aboard Hail Atlantis. "She was reminding me of Winning Colors going down the backside. I thought if I can keep doing this…it's going to be pretty special. Mike (Smith's) filly (Ria Antonia) is a good filly. I've worked her a couple of times so I knew what I was dealing with. I think we were underestimated in here though, off her numbers last out. We knew that she was going to improve a lot today."
Stevens won the Santa Anita Oaks four consecutive times from 1987 to 1990, including the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors in 1998.
Ria Antonia was transferred to the Baffert barn from trainer Jeremiah Englehart following a well-beaten fourth-place finish behind likely Kentucky Oaks favorite Untapable in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 22 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The strapping bay filly had been working exceptionally well for Baffert at Santa Anita.
Racing without blinkers, the Rockport Harbor miss had a good stalking trip for Smith but lacked the needed closing kick after advancing into second on the outside leaving the far turn.
"My horse ran a tremendous race today. I can't complain," Smith said. "I really thought we had (Fashion Plate) measured in the turn and we would get there. We really got beat by a good filly. I think we would have had to be 110% today to beat that horse (Fashion Plate). I really think our horse probably needed two races before this race. She should be better next time."
Callaghan also conditions Bajan, who rallied mildly under Joe Talamo for third. Honey Ride was 1 3/4 lengths farther back in fourth, followed by Arethusa, Artemis, and Smoove It. Kissin Lucky Lips scratched.
"Down the backside, Gary found time to take a little breather on (Fashion Plate) and just bring her back and then let her go again," Callaghan said of the winner. "As races go, it was a perfect ride. I was delighted with the run from the other filly (Bajan). Oaks-placing for her is massive."
The fast-improving Fashion Plate has now won three of five starts with earnings of $459,250.
Fashion Plate went through the sales ring three times before being purchased by Callaghan at Ocala last year. Consigned to the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale by Taylor Made Sales Agency, she sold to 4th Street Racing for $75,000. Sent back through the ring by Taylor Made at the Keeneland September yearling sale the following year, the filly was acquired by agent Nick de Meric for $35,000. De Meric consigned the filly to the 2013 OBSC auction.
"Fashion Plate is a nice filly," Baffert said. "Some days you get beat. (Ria Antonia) ran a good race. She broke OK, but we're learning more about her. I learned a lot from her race today. She just got beat today."