Balance, whose faltering form was resoundingly reversed in last month’s La Canada Stakes (gr. II), should be considered a solid favorite among seven entrants in Saturday’s 70th running of Santa Anita’s $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.
Balance, Amerman Racing’s 4-year-old filly trained by David Hofmans, almost always is solidly supported, even after her performances soured following victories in a pair of grade I events for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita last year: the Las Virgenes Stakes and Santa Anita Oaks.
The bay daughter of Thunder Gulch has never gone off at odds of greater than 5-2 in nine starts since her winning debut at 8-1. Balance has contested six grade I stakes including the 2006 Kentucky Oaks when she ran 11th as the 8-5 favorite.
Following other decisive losses in Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes (gr. I) as well as Santa Anita’s La Brea Stakes (gr. I) in late December, Balance rebounded with a 4 1/4-length triumph in the La Canada at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 11.
“She’s really good right now, but she’d probably be better off in a big field,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, who has ridden Balance in her past nine starts. “Her style is suited for that, because she runs from off the pace. More horses would make for a strong pace.”
The 120-pound high weight in the Santa Margarita, Balance will be ceding five pounds or more to her six opponents.
A victory in the Santa Margarita, worth $180,000, would elevate Balance’s earnings to over $900,000. She enters the race, which Hofmans won with Amerman Racing’s Adoration in 2004, with a bankroll of $720,159 from a 5-1-3 record in 10 starts.
Her competitors include Oxbow Racing’s Ermine, second in the Feb. 10 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) after winning her two previous starts. The Florida-bred, who ran second in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks, will be ridden by Florida-based Eddie Castro while carrying second high-weight of 115 pounds. Trained by Ronny Werner, Ermine has earned $491,082 with a 4-4-0 record in 11 lifetime starts.
As for outsider Les Ry Leigh, who rallied for third in the La Canada, Jim Cassidy wishes the Santa Margarita were longer.
“She acts like she wants to run all day,” the trainer said of the 4-year-old daughter of Broken Vow. “We contemplated shipping to Arkansas (for Saturday’s Grade III Azeri Breeders’ Cup Handicap at 1 1/16 miles) but we decided to stay. She’s training well, and I hope there’s plenty of pace.”
$300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 4:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Balance (KY), 120, Victor Espinoza
2. Les Ry Leigh (MD), 113, Richard Migliore
3. Witch Woman (FL), 113, David R. Flores
4. Vanguarda (ARG), 111, Aaron T. Gryder
5. Ready to Please (KY), 113, Brice Blanc
6. River Savage (BRZ), 113, Omar A. Berrio
7. Ermine (FL), 115, Eddie Castro