Heavy betting favorite Behaving Badly popped the gate in front for jockey Victor Espinoza and was never seriously threatened, becoming a grade I winner with little trouble in the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) for fillies and mares at Santa Anita Park Sunday.
The 5-year-old Pioneering
mare, trained by Bob Baffert for owners Patti and Hal J. Earnhardt III of Queen Creek, AZ, took full advantage of a track playing to speed and completed the seven-furlong test in a strong time of 1:21 4/5 at odds of 13-10.
Behaving Badly led by a length after a quarter-mile in :22 and stretched that advantage to 4 1/2 lengths on the turn after completing a half-mile in :44. She opened up by about one half-dozen lengths in the stretch and hit the six-furlong mark leading by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:08 3/5. She maintained that edge to the wire, winning officially by 4 1/2 lengths.
"The main thing with this horse was to get out of the gate," Espinoza said. "Once she did, that was it."
Espinoza, who captured his first Santa Monica, has won with all four of his rides on the bay mare.
The Argentine-bred Miss Terrible, ridden by Garrett Gomez, drove through on the inside to get second by 1 1/2 lengths over grade I winner Leave Me Alone, the 2-1 second choice with Kent Desormeaux aboard. Outsider Nossa Cancao finished fourth.
Gomez said he liked his position after a half-mile but there was no catching the winner.
"I thought maybe she'd back up but she kept on going," he said. "My filly made a nice run. I've got no complaints."
A pair of grade I victors, Alphabet Kisses and Sharp Lisa, were not involved. Alphabet Kisses broke a bit slowly from the rail for Patrick Valenzuela and was rushed up into second place to press the pace, but she was finished on the turn. Sharp Lisa made a mild move on the outside on the turn but did not sustain it for Corey Nakatani, finishing fifth. Trailing were Allswellthatnswell, Awesome Lady and Alphabet Kisses, who was eased in the stretch.
Behaving Badly, a New York bred, has had just seven races in her career, winning five of them. She won the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) at Del Mar in August but bombed two months later at Keeneland when eighth of 10 as the 7-5 favorite in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. III). She was coming off a 4 1/2-length win in a six-furlong allowance timed in 1:08 at Hollywood Park Dec. 16, signaling a big effort to come Sunday. The victory improved her earnings to $347,200.
Baffert, who also won his first Santa Monica, said he won't be tempted to try two turns with Behaving Badly.
"I think that's (seven furlongs) as far as she wants to go with this caliber of horses," he said "I'm just glad she ran today like she's been working. When I saw 22 (for the opening quarter mile) I knew we were okay. She was just cruising."
Thomas/Lakin bred Behaving Badly, who is out of Timeleighness, by Sir Raleigh.
She paid $4.60, $3.80 and $2.40, while Miss Terrible, making her first start since running second in Keeneland's TCA Oct. 16, returned $6.80 and $3.20. The exacta was worth $44.20. Leave Me Alone, who has now lost four in a row since her 7 3/4-length win in the Test Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga in August, was $2.40 to show.
"I'm just a little disappointed," said Leave Me Alone's trainer Eric Kruljac. "I wanted her to move forward and I think she regressed a little bit."
In an earlier supporting feature, California-bred Cambiocorsa
scored a wire-to-wire win in the $96,800 Wishing Well Handicap for fillies and mares as odds-on favorite Elusive Diva checked in third behind runner-up Sweet Ambition in the 6 ½-furlong sprint over the hillside turf course.
Ridden by Aaron Gryder, the 4-year-old roan filly by Avenue of Flags recorded her third straight victory and extended her record over the downhill grass layout to a perfect 4-for-4 while running the distance in 1:12.42. The winning margin was 1 ½ lengths.
As the second choice in a field of eight, Cambiocorsa paid $9, $5.80 and $2.20. With the heavy wagering action on Elusive Diva, who paid $2.10 to show, the place and show payoffs on 55-1 shot Sweet Ambition were $31.20 and $3.
It was the fourth win in nine starts for the course specialist trained by Doug O'Neill for Leatherman Racing LLC. She boosted her earnings to $166,460 with the winning purse of $62,400.