California Nectar holds off Zazu to win the Santa Ynez Stakes. <br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

California Nectar holds off Zazu to win the Santa Ynez Stakes.
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California Nectar Squeezes Out Santa Ynez Win

Suarez Racing's homebred filly holds off heavy choice Zazu by a neck at Santa Anita.

California Nectar led every step of the way while holding off heavy favorite Zazu in the final strides to win the $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) by a neck at Santa Anita Jan. 15 (VIDEO).

Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela in the Superman silks of Suarez Racing, the California-bred California Nectar registered her first graded win for trainer Doug O'Neill in this seven-furlong test of 3-year-old fillies. Pablo and Michelle Suarez's homebred daughter of Stormy Atlantic --Absolute Nectar, by Carson City, completed the distance in 1:21.34.

“She broke really well and down the backside," Valenzuela said. "I felt like Superman, because she felt like super girl; she was flying. When that filly (Zazu) came to her, my filly picked her head up and tried even harder. I don’t think she was ever going to get by us.”

Suarez Racing and O'Neill previously won the Santa Ynez in 2005 with Sharp Lisa, who was co-owned by J. Paul Reddam.

Leaving from the rail in the field of seven, Valenzuela directed California Nectar to the front, where she carved swift fractions of :22.02 and :44.34 while pushed along by Plum Pretty, one of two in the field for trainer Bob Baffert. Plum Pretty increased the pressure coming into the stretch as Zazu, the 6-5 choice, rallied wide and Star Presence, Baffert's second filly, advanced along the inside.

But California Nectar had more left, repelling the bid from Plum Pretty and digging in late as Zazu, ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario, closed with interest but ran out of time. California Nectar held on despite drifting out late under left-handed urging from Valenzuela. Plum Pretty, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, ran third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Zazu, with Star Presence fourth.

California Nectar won the filly division of the seven-furlong California Breeders Championship over state-breds in her last start Dec. 27 at Santa Anita. She is now two-for-two on dirt. The bay filly has three wins and three seconds in seven lifetime races with earnings of $213,800.

"She’s won two (straight) races at seven furlongs," noted Leandro Mora, O'Neill's assistant. "We’re going to try and stretch her out. She’s only three, and everybody has Kentucky Oaks dreams.”

California Nectar carried 119 pounds and paid $8, $3.60 and $3 as the second choice. Zazu, fifth-place finisher in the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) in her most recent start Dec. 11, perked up with the return to one turn and paid $2.60 and $2.20. The exacta was worth $22.80. Up-and-coming Plum Pretty, making her second lifetime start, was $2.80 to show while racing without blinkers.

Star Presence was 2 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth, followed by Teroda, Warren's Flyer and Alec's Moon.