Willa B Awesome hit the front early and was never headed as she snuck away to an 11-1 upset in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Jan. 28 (VIDEO).
A main prep for the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) March 31, the California-bred Willa B Awesome won the Santa Ysabel by 3 1/2 lengths as the longest shot in field of five 3-year-old fillies. With Martin Pedroza aboard for trainer Walther Solis, she ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:41.73 on a fast track.
Santa Anita also ran three $100,000 stakes races on its Santa Monica Stakes (gr. I) undercard for state-breds as part of the Sunshine Millions with Gulfstream Park in Florida. With the scratch of heavy favorite Caracortado due to a foot problem, even-money choice Compari won the Sensational Star, Holladay Road captured the Crystal Water, and Chokecherymary upset the Valentine Dancer.
Willa B Awesome, winner of the Barretts Debutante last September, registered her first graded stakes win for owners Phil Daniels, Patsy London, John Winters, and Terry Lovingier, who bred the chestnut filly. Out of the Nineelevn mare Cause I'm Tricky, Willa B.\ Awesome sold for $18,000 at Barretts in January 2011.
Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) winner Killer Graces finished second, with Lady of Shamrock third. Charm the Maker, the even-money choice, never threatened after trailing the field intto the far turn and finished fourth.
Two key scratches, morning line favorite Eden's Moon and Coup de Coeur, eliminated most of the speed in the field and allowed Willa B Awesome to set the pace without a serious challenge. After hustling past Batalha on her inside coming through the stretch the first time, the daughter of Awesome Gambler settled into an even tempo while clicking off quarter-mile fractions of :23.23, :46.80, and 1:10.84.
Solis said: "When they scratched the two horses on the inside I said, ‘We’ll change tactics.’ I was thinking about coming from third or fourth, but scratching the speed, I told Martin, ‘Let’s go to the lead and have them catch us.’”
Willa B Awesome increased her advantage over Batalha on the turn for home and she was in command as Killer Graces commenced her bid on the outside for Joe Talamo and Lady of Shamrock rallied along the rail for Mike Smith. But Willa B. Awesome, asked for more by Pedroza in the lane, responded well under right-handed urging approaching the furlong pole and put the race away.
“My plan was, there was no speed on paper, so if they would chase me for a little bit, I could pull her away early," Pedroza said. "If the other horses had to come from behind, I figured I’d have a pretty good chance to win the race. It was just the way I planned it. I took advantage of her speed. I put her where she wanted to be, and then I said, ‘Come and get me.’”
Killer Graces, the 123-pound high weight making her first start at Santa Anita for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, was three lengths clear of third-place finisher Lady of Shamrock. Charm the Maker, beaten by 7 3/4 lengths, defeated only Batalha.
The consistent Willa B Awesome improved two wins and two seconds in four starts on dirt. Her overall career mark stands at 3-3-2 in 10 starts with earnings of $233,896. In her only prior start in graded stakes company, she ran fourth in Del Mar's Sorrento Stakes on Polytrack last August.
Carrying 118 pounds, the winner paid $24.20, $7.60, $3.80. Killer Graces, who completed a $97 exacta, returned $5.40 and $3.40. Lady of Shamrock, in her initial start on dirt after beginning her career with four races on turf for trainer John Sadler, paid $3.80.
In the Sensational Star on the hillside turf course at about 6 12/ furlongs, Compari, ridden by Smith, stalked the pace into the stretch and took over past the eighth pole to register a 1 1/4-length victory over four rivals (VIDEO). Compari was clocked in a strong 1:12.02 over firm ground.
A 6-year-old son of Redatorre out of the Dixieland Band mare Southern Charm, Compari ($4) races as a homebred for Harris Farms, Donald Valpredo, and John Nicoletti. Marty Jones trains the bay gelding, who registered his eight win in 14 starts with earnings of $570,430.
Holladay Road, a $25,000 claim by trainer Julio Canani last summer at Del Mar, took the lead near the sixteenth pole and drew away for his first stakes win, a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Crystal Water (VIDEO). Owned by Gary and Wendy Broad, the 7-year-old Street Cry gelding covered the 1 1/16-mile main track test in 1:41.25.
Holladay Road ($6.60), bred by Williamson Racing out of Blending Element, by Great Commotion, has won three of five starts since being claimed. Holladay Road has earned $231,820 in a 13-race career that includes six victories.
The Valentine Dancer, at one mile on the turf, went to 8-1 shot Chokecherymary, who swept to victory with Corey Nakatani aboard (VIDEO). Gary Mandella trains the winning 4-year-old daughter of Capsized--Sassy Rhythm (by Gilded Time) for Steve and Sue Wasko. BnD Thoroughbreds bred Chokecherymary.
Chokecherymary ($18.80) rallied from sixth at the quarter pole, angling out in the stretch to edge pacesetter California Nectar in deep stretch by a half-length. The final time was 1:34.32. Secret Cove was just a neck farther back in third, nosing 8-5 favorite Halo Dolly for the show spot.
Winning for the third time in nine starts, Chokecherymary boosted her earnings to $172,478 with her first stakes victory.