Iotapa flies home to win the Santa Maria Stakes.

Iotapa flies home to win the Santa Maria Stakes.

Benoit Photo

Consistent Iotapa Rewarded in Santa Maria Win

Graded stakes-placed four times, ex-claimer scores in front-running style Feb. 15.

Graded stakes-placed four times previously in her career, Iotapa broke through with a front-running tally in the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 15 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).

The John Sadler-trained 4-year-old daughter of Afleet Alex  changed up her usual running style as jockey Joe Talamo put her on the lead for the first time. From there, the improving filly dictated the tempo and then kicked away in the homestretch for a 1 3/4-length victory over Let Faith Arise.

"We were going pretty slow and that was kind of our plan, to take her to the lead, Talamo said. "She was just pricking her ears back and forth. She showed a lot of class today; I was so fortunate to get back on her."

Iotapa was timed in 1:42.30 on a fast track for the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria, the main prep for the $350,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) at nine furlongs March 15.

Hronis Racing campaigns Iotapa, who was claimed out of her debut race, a maiden victory at Betfair Hollywood Park, for $50,000 in June 2012. She is out of the winning El Corredor mare Concinnous and was bred in Kentucky by Gem Inc., Steven Bajer, and Robin O'Hara. The dark bay filly was coming off a runner-up finish in the seven-furlong Santa Monica Stakes (gr. II) in her seasonal debut Jan. 25.

"We've paid a lot of money for horses," noted co-owner Kosta Hronis, who credited Sadler for the operation's success over the past two years. "This one we got kind of a bargain through the claim box."

Morning line favorite Fiftyshadesofhay was scratched from the Santa Maria earlier in the day by trainer Bob Baffert. That left Iotapa as the slight second choice in the field of six older fillies and mares behind Ondine. Both went off at 2-1.

Breaking from the rail, Iotapa outfought Yahilwa for the lead going into the clubhouse turn and maintained a steady advantage over that rival through reasonable fractions of :23.28, :47.75, and 1:11.64, with Ondine and Let Faith Arise tracking the leaders.

"When she drew the rail, I didn't want to waste the post," Sadler said in explaining why Iotapa went to the front. "You don't want to get sucked back out of the one, so I thought she'd be first or second, but I left it up to Joe."

Iotapa put away pace rival Yahilwa leaving the far turn, got a reminder in upper stretch from Talamo, and kept to her task to the wire in an impressive display as the stalking Let Faith Arise and Corey Nakatani vainly attempted to cut into the advantage. It was 1 3/4 lengths farther back to late-running Stanwyck, with Alex Solis aboard, in third. Then came Yahilwa, Ondine, and Golden Production.

The breakthrough win for Iotapa followed a 3-year-old campaign in which she won the listed Railbird Stakes at  Hollywood Park but was denied in second-place finishes in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II), as well as a third-place finish on grass in the San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) at Del Mar. The ultra-consistent filly now owns a career mark of 4-3-1 in eight starts and earnings of $363,490.

Sadler said Iotapa would be pointed toward the Santa Margarita.

Iotapa won for the first time beyond seven furlongs and scored her initial triumph from three tries at the 1 1/16-mile distance.

Under equal weight of 118 pounds, Iotapa paid $6.40, $3.60, and $2.80 across the board while keying a $20.60 exacta. Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' Let Faith Arise, second in the La Canada Jan. 19 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, was the bridesmaid again while returning $3.60 and $2.60. Jerry and Ann Moss' Stanwyck, in her second Southern California start since returning from New York late last year for trainer John Shirreffs, paid $3.20 to show..