There wasn't much speed signed up for Saturday's $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT), and jockey Corey Nakatani took full advantage to drive Sharp Lisa to a crafty front-running victory by a nose over Eternal Melody at 10 furlongs on the Santa Anita lawn.
Going farther than she ever had before, Sharp Lisa was drifting outward in the final stages as her lead dwindled, but she held on gamely as Eternal Melody and Garrett Gomez closed in to win the head bob in a time of 2:02.
Sharp Lisa snapped a five-race losing streak since taking the Las Virgenes (gr. I) in February 2005 on the dirt for trainer Doug O'Neill. The 4-year-old daughter of Dixieland Band
made just her second start on the grass Saturday after turning in a creditable effort in her last try in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT) March 26, when she finished three-quarters of a length behind Silver Cup.
"This filly has tremendous heart," Nakatani said. "In her last race, she was a little green. Today, Doug really had her spot-on, nice and fresh."
Sharp Lisa set the pace in the Santa Ana as well, then rallied in the stretch after being passed. Faced with a similar speed scenario Saturday, the chestnut filly was never headed, winning in a time of 2:02. She set easy fractions of :24 3/5, :49 3/5, 1:15 and 1:39 2/5, inching away on the far turn to take command in the stretch. Eternal Melody, saving ground in fourth for Gomez, swung wide in the stretch to just miss.
"He did a great job of slowing them down," O'Neill, who won his 10th stakes of the meeting, said of Nakatani. "This filly is so gutsy and has so much heart, and she showed it today. I'm just glad we hit the wire at the right moment. I don't think we had the lead right before or right after the wire.
"She's so versatile, she can run on grass or dirt, so we'd thought we'd give it a run on turf again, but we couldn't have won without Corey's ride."
Nakatani said he thought he had the race won when Sharp Lisa reached the stretch.
"As easy as the fractions were, she wasn't gawking around, and she was all business," he said. "When I set her down today, she opened up and really ran gamely to the wire."
It was 2 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Cissy, a 25-1 shot. Argentina, the Bobby Frankel-trained 3-5 favorite in the field of six coming off her strong runner-up showing in the Santa Ana, had a shot as she reached the stretch but failed to respond in deep stretch and was nosed for third.
"When we split horses there at the 5/16 pole, I thought I was a winner," said Alex Solis, who rode Argentina. "She just flattened out the last eighth of a mile"
Aubonne and Theater R.N. trailed.
Owned by the partnership of J. Paul Reddam, Suarez Racing, Inc., and Mark Schlesinger, Sharp Lisa improved her career record to 4-2-1 in 12 starts while booting her earnings to $597,100.
A distant second choice in the wagering, she paid $10.40, $5, and $5.20. The New Zealand-bred Eternal Melody, coming off a classified allowance win for Frankel in February, returned $5.80 and $5.20. Cissy, who began her career in Argentina and is now winless in five United States starts, was $8.20 to show.