Iotapa won the 2014 Santa Maria Stakes.

Iotapa won the 2014 Santa Maria Stakes.

Benoit Photo

Iotapa Heads Tough Lineup in Santa Margarita

Santa Maria victress takes on La Canada winner Spellbound, Fiftyshadesofhay March 15.

After breaking through with her first graded stakes win one month ago, Iotapa seeks grade I glory when facing seven other older fillies and mares in the $350,000 Santa Margarita Stakes March 15 at Santa Anita Park.

Hronis Racing's Iotapa was a gate-to-wire winner of the Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 15 by 1 3/4 lengths for trainer John Sadler while earning a career-best 99 Beyer figure. The 4-year-old daughter of Afleet Alex  will be stretching out a bit from 1 1/16 miles to the nine-furlong Santa Margarita, the championship event for older fillies and mares on the Santa Anita calendar.

With Close Hatches entered in the Azeri Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park instead, this year's Santa Margarita is strictly a local affair. Iotapa could go favored in an evenly-matched race that includes La Canada winner Spellbound and Fiftyshadesofhay, who has captured multiple graded stakes. The Santa Margarita is the seventh on the Saturday program with a 3:30 p.m. PDT scheduled post.

Claimed for $50,000 out of her first race in June 2012, Iotapa has been remarkably consistent with four wins, three seconds, and a third in eight lifetime starts. After winning her first two starts, the listed Railbird Stakes winner went on to finish second in both the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Hollywood Oaks before placing third in the San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Del Mar turf last summer. She began the current campaign with a second in the seven-furlong Santa Monica Stakes (gr. II) prior to the Santa Maria.

In the Santa Maria, she broke cleanly from the inside post and was never headed, taking command after putting away pace rival Yahilwa. The dark bay filly will have Joe Talamo back aboard from post 7 under 118 pounds.

Besides Yahilwa, who weakened to fourth, two others out of the Santa Maria return hererunner-up Let Faith Arise and third-place Stanwyck.

Let Faith Arise was also second in the La Canada Jan. 19, a neck behind Spellbound. The Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' 4-year-old filly is by Kafwain and is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. She is seeking her first graded stakes win with Corey Nakatani back for a return engagement from post 5.

Grade III winner Stanwyck, a half sister to 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo also trained by John Shirreffs for Jerry and Ann Moss, ran on to edge Yahilwa for third in the Santa Maria. The latter filly was making her United States stakes debut for trainer Jim Cassidy in the Santa Maria.

Spellbound came from 16 lengths out of it to annex the La Canada at odds of 16-1, her first stakes win for trainer Richard Mandella and owners Ramona Bass, Claiborne Farm, and Adele Dilschneider. After successfully closing into splits of :45.47 for the half and 1:09.66 for six furlongs, jockey Victor Espinoza is undoubtedly hoping for another swift pace from post 2 for the 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini .

Unlucky in the La Canada was the front-running Fiftyshadesofhay, squeezed at the start and dropped back by jockey Mike Smith before rallying to finish a troubled fourth, beaten by one length at 13-10 odds.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Fiftyshadesofhay ran second and third, respectively, to eventual 3-year-old Eclipse Award winning filly Beholder in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) and the Santa Anita Oaks.

Owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, Fiftyshadesofhay won the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) at Pimlico Race Course May 17 and the Iowa Oaks (gr. III) at Prairie Meadows June 29 in back-to-back fashion. The Kentucky-bred filly by Pulpit has not won since, however, and brings a four-race loss string into the Santa Margarita. Her overall mark stands at 4-4-3 in 14 races and she has banked a field-best $796,297.

Hollendorfer will also saddle the up-and-coming Macha, a second condition allowance winner going 1 1/16  miles at Santa Anita Feb. 13, the first career attempt on dirt for the New York-bred            

Argentine-bred Miss Serendipity, trained by Ron McAnally, was fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the 1 1/16 mile Paseana Stakes Jan. 12. She was subsequently fourth again, beaten 2 1/4 lengths in the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT), on turf Feb. 17.

$350,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I, Race 7, 3:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Fiftyshadesofhay (KY), M Garcia, 118, B Baffert
2. Spellbound (KY), V Espinoza, 118, R E Mandella
3. Macha (NY), R Bejarano, 118, J Hollendorfer
4. Miss Serendipity (ARG), B Blanc, 120, R L McAnally
5. Let Faith Arise (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, J Hollendorfer
6. Stanwyck (KY), G L Stevens, 118, J A Shirreffs
7. Iotapa (KY), J Talamo, 118, J W Sadler
8. Yahilwa (KY), T Baze, 118, J M Cassidy