Judy the Beauty wins the Las Flores Stakes.

Judy the Beauty wins the Las Flores Stakes.

Benoit Photography

Judy the Beauty Splendid in Las Flores Score

Runner-up in 2013 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint begins year with stylish victory.

Judy the Beauty, game runner-up in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), began what Wesley Ward hopes is a championship campaign with a sharp win in the $100,000 Las Flores Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) March 9 at Santa Anita Park.

With John Velazquez in town to ride, Judy the Beauty enjoyed a perfect stalking trip behind pacesetter Munnings Sister, who provided a blazing pace in the six-furlong test. Drawing close to the leader leaving the turn, Judy the Beauty seized the advantage in upper stretch and soon drew clear to an easy 4 3/4-length triumph. She was clocked in 1:08.22 over a fast track.

Judy Beauty shipped in from Gulfstream Park for Ward, who owns and trains the solid 5-year-old Ghostzapper  mare, off a series of strong works for her first start in more than four months.

"Wesley did everything. All I did was fluff her pillow, put new shoes on her and keep her happy," said Blake Heap, who assists Ward. "He gets all the credit. She came out here perfect."

Heir Kitty, winner of the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) in December at Santa Anita, launched a belated bid fom the rear of the compact field under Gary Stevens to nab the place spot by a nose over Munnings Sister and Luis Saez. Munnings Sister, also shipping in from Florida for trainer Barclay Tagg, posted quarter mile splits of :21.72 and :44.23 before giving way to the winner in the stretch.

"When she broke I wanted to make sure she got a position that she was comfortable with," Velazquez said of the winner. "She's normally more in-hand during the post parade and she was quiet and when she got into the gate she was very quiet.

"So when we came out of the there I gave her a little hit (with the reigns) to come out running, and she did. I wish I didn't do it because we ended up being too close to the pace. It was a perfect trip, though, and she handled it very well."

After winning the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) with her at Keeneland last October, Velazquez was to ride Judy the Beauty in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint. But he was seriously injured beforehand when his filly, Secret Compass, broke down in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Velazquez later underwent surgery to remove his spleen and is on the comeback trail.

In his absence, Luis Saez guided Judy the Beauty in the Filly & Mare Sprint, coming up half a length shy of two-time champion Groupie Doll in a determined closing effort.

Out of the stakes-winning Holy Bull mare Holy Blitz, Judy the Beauty was bred in Ontario by Adena Springs.

Heap said Ward plans to ship Judy the Beauty back to Keeneland for an unspecified race there.

Never worse than third in 14 starts while compiling six wins and seven seconds, Judy the Beauty has banked $825,757 while on the verge of breaking through at the top level. Besides last year's Breeders' Cup, she has runner-up finishes in three other grade I races: last year's Princess Rooney, the 2012 Prioress, and the 2011 Spinaway.

Judy the Beauty carried 123 pounds and paid $3, $2.20, and $2.10. Heir Kitty, who also toted 123, returned $3 and $2.20 while rounding out a $6.60 exacta. Munnings Sister paid $2.40 to show. Warm Breeze was fourth, followed by Kinz Funky Monkey.