Jockey Alex Solis kept the late-running Striking Dancer clear of traffic and the daughter of Smart Strike did the rest, causing a 13-1 upset in the $150,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO), the Valentine's Day feature at Santa Anita Feb. 14.
Favored Stardom Bound, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, was attempting to regain the form she showed in winning five consecutive grade I races late in 2008 and early last year. But the champion juvenile filly of 2008 offered no response in the lane, finishing seventh in the field of 11 4-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the Pro-Ride main track.
Striking Dancer registered her first stakes win in the La Canada, which was her third start on a synthetic surface.
Trained by Ken McPeek for Stevestan Stables, Striking Dancer showed little in her Santa Anita debut on grass. She finished seventh against optional claiming horses Jan. 8, but had a legitimate excuse when blocked for much of the final furlong, and was beaten by less than three lengths.
Riding her for the first time, Solis took no chances this time, angling Striking Dancer five wide at the head of the stretch and letting her roll. Driving down the center of the track, Striking Dancer reached the lead near the sixteenth pole and finished 1 1/2 lengths in front in an aggressive effort.
The final time was 1:48.48.
“I had an awesome trip," Solis said. "I was able to save ground around the first turn and when we got to the five-eighths, I moved out where I had a good position and I had some options. She’s an awesome filly and she beat a nice group of horses today.”
Gripsholm Castle, a Kentucky-bred filly making her first American start after racing in Great Britain at 3, finished second in a ground-saving trip for jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Ben Cecil. Third-place finisher Floating Heart, overcoming her far outside starting position with Joe Talamo aboard, was a half-length farther back in an encouraging performance as well.
The favorites, Stardom Bound, at 2-1, and Unrivaled Belle, were not factors at the finish. Stardom Bound, trying to stay a little closer to the pace in her first try for Julien Leparoux, failed to menace. The stalking Unrivaled Belle, the 5-2 second choice with Kent Desormeaux aloft, went for an early run, challenging pacesetter Freedom Star along with third favorite Miss Silver Brook. All faded out of contention by the end.
Freedom Star set fractions of :23.39, :47.88, and 1:12.16 before giving way approaching mid-stretch. Gripsholm Castle, advancing along the inside for Espinoza, took over from there before Striking Dancer swept by on her outside. Floating Heart, also on the grandstand side, ran on for third after encountering traffic problems on the far turn. Unrivaled Belle settled for fourth, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
Then came Freedom Star, Dream Empress, Stardom Bound, Pretty Katherine, Miss Silver Brook, Spirit Seeker, and Gumption.
Striking Dancer's prior three lifetime wins came on grass, while her previous two tries on synthetic tracks netted a pair of third-place finishes. She improved her career mark to 4-1-3 in 11 starts with earnings of $206,097. The La Canada victory was worth $90,000 to her owner Steve Kaplan.
In her only prior graded stakes effort, Striking Dancer ran sixth in the Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) on a firm Churchill Downs turf Nov. 14.
“It’s not a surprise at all," said Jordan Blair, McPeek's assistant, of the upset win. "This filly trains well on every surface she’s ever been on -- dirt, turf, synthetic -- and she’s been a bad-luck filly. We knew she had it in her and she showed it today.”
A $110,00 Keeneland sale yearling in 2007, the winning chestnut filly was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. She is out of Dancing Shoes, by Danehill.
Sent off as the co-fifth choice, Striking Dancer carried 116 pounds and paid $28.60, $11.20, and $6.40. Gripsholm Castle, a two-time winner in four starts in England for trainer Henry Cecil, returned $16.60 and $10.40 and completed a $2 exacta worth $337.40. Michael Tabor's Floating Heart, who also finished third behind St Trinians in the Paseana Handicap in her prior start for trainer Todd Pletcher, was $5.60 to show.
Pretty Unusual, Applause, and Dave's Revenge scratched.
A two-day carryover of $516,485 contributed to a total Pick Six pool of $2,377,847. There were five winning tickets, each worth $313,721.