Santa Teresita, surprise winner of the Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) at odds of 13-1 one month ago, figures to be a considerably shorter price when she takes on six older fillies and mares in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) March 14.
The 5-year-old daughter of Lemon Drop Kid faces a field that includes Life Is Sweet, the likely favorite after back-to-back grade II victories at the meet, and grade I winner Magical Fantasy. The Santa Margarita is contested at 1 1/8 miles over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface.
Trained by Eric Guillot for Southern Equine Stable, Santa Teresita had only a minor stakes victory at Santa Anita last April to her credit prior to winning the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria. She had lost six races in a row.
Ridden by Joe Talamo, Santa Teresita stalked pacesetter Briecat in second position before taking over on the far turn. She cleared off in the stretch and blasted home by 2 1/2 lengths. The late-running Model, also entered in the Santa Margarita, never threatened and finished in a dead-heat for second with Marzelline.
“She just had a beautiful trip,” said Talamo. “She’s a stalking kind of filly, and I was able to keep her relaxed outside of the (rail sitter Briecat), and that helped her to stay relaxed. At the quarter-pole, I said, ‘Okay, mama, let’s go,’ and she really gave it to me.”
The win boosted Santa Teresita's earnings to $393,430. The bay mare has won four of 13 starts, three of those wins coming at Santa Anita. Talamo will ride Santa Teresita from post 6 under 117 pounds, three fewer than top-weighted Life Is Sweet.
A 4-year-old Storm Cat filly owned and bred by Martin and Pam Wygod, Life Is Sweet is unbeaten in two starts with jockey Garrett Gomez, both of her wins coming at the current meet against 4-year-old fillies.
Life Is Sweet took Santa Anita’s El Encino Stakes (gr. II) on Jan. 18 by 2 1/2 lengths, coming from far back at odds of 7-2 to defeat two-time grade I winner Country Star. She followed that effort with a three-quarter length score as the favorite in the La Canada (gr. II) on Feb. 15, rallying impressively once again through the homestretch.
The bay will be taking on mares for the first time. Life Is Sweet could provide trainer John Shirreffs with his fourth win in the Santa Margarita since he was initially victorious with Manistique in 1999. The Wygods won the 'Margarita in 1996 with Twice The Vice.
After racing in the East with moderate success at the ages of 2 and 3, Life Is Sweet has blossomed under Shirreffs’ care. She now boasts earnings of $368,810 from a career record of 4-2-0 in nine starts.
Magical Fantasy, who ran second to Life Is Sweet in the La Canada, won the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) at 42-1 last summer. In her only previous try against older fillies and mares, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Diesis ran fourth in the Matriarch (gr. IT) on the Hollywood Park turf Nov. 30.
Alex Solis regularly rides Magical Fantasy, now 4, for trainer Paddy Gallagher and owner David Bienstock and partners. She began her career racing mostly on England's all-weather surfaces and has posted a 2-4-0 record in 12 starts while earning $314,421.
Model has posted back-to-back second-place finishes for trainer Neil Drysdale since a minor stakes win at Hollywood Park in November. A four-time winner of $461,536, the late-running 5-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway seeks her first graded triumph. She has had seven-runner-up finishes in her 15-race career.
Also in the field is Modification, who finished fourth in the La Canada in her graded stakes bow. She was only one length behind Life Is Sweet at odds of 23-1.
Bel Air Sizzle, to be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, snapped a seven-race losing streak for trainer Barry Abrams when she defeated state breds in the one-mile Valentine Dancer Handicap on turf Feb. 21. Forest Melody figures to set the pace from the rail post with Mike Smith.
$300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I, Race 8, 4:07 p.m), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Forest Melody (KY), 113, Mike E. Smith
2. Life Is Sweet (KY), 120, Garrett K. Gomez
3. Bel Air Sizzle (CA), 114, Rafael Bejarano
4. Modification (KY), 113, Tyler Baze
5. Magical Fantasy (KY), 117, Alex O. Solis
6. Santa Teresita (KY), 117, Joseph Talamo
7. Model (KY), 116, Joel Rosario