Michael Bello's British-bred Megahertz won the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares for the third straight time much as she pleased Sunday at Santa Anita Park. And increasingly, that means coming from far back.
The diminutive Bobby Frankel-trained 6-year-old mare tailed off by some 21 lengths behind the quick pacesetter, Midwife, after six furlongs. But under Alex Solis, she steadily moved into position on the far turn along the inside and, after angling to the grand stand side, flew through the stretch to record a three-quarters of a length victory over another English bred, Nadeszhda. Irish-bred Hoh Buzzard finished third, another two lengths behind.
The final time for the 1 1/4-mile event was a sparkling 1:59 3/5.
After riding her to nine wins, including all three in the Santa Barbara, Solis said he's learned to let Megahertz have her way.
"That's her, being back there," Solis said. "She broke sharp, but she has to be back there. You can't fight her. She just says, 'I'll let them go and I'll catch them later.' I never have ridden a horse that has that kind of kick. It's incredible. You really have to understand her, leave her alone, and let her do her thing. She gets me worried too, but I trust what she's doing the whole race. I do my stuff on the backside and go from there."
The grade I winning Megahertz, a daughter of Pivotal-Heavenly Ray (Rahy
) seemed to have her six rivals well measured in spite of the big early deficit. After urging the 3-5 favorite with a left-handed stick through the stretch run, Solis put his whip away inside the sixteenth pole and finished with a vigorous hand ride.
Megahertz, who had one horse beaten at the head of the stretch, carried top weight of 123 pounds, nine more than the runner-up. She is only the second horse in the track's 70-year history to win the same stakes event three consecutive years. Del Mar Dennis won the San Bernardino Handicap from 1994-96.
Frankel won his seventh stakes race at the Santa Anita meeting, but was in Kentucky Sunday to saddle Intercontinental to a repeat victory in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland. With 113 career stakes wins at the Arcadia track's winter/spring meeting, he trails only Charlie Whittingham, who won 204. Assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio handled saddling duties for Megahertz.
Midwife set a quick pace for the distance and led by 10 lengths at the six-furlong mark, while clicking off fractions of :23 1/5, :46 1/5, and 1:10 4/5. Nadeszhda, with Julio Garcia aboard, bid three deep on the turn to take a narrow advantage over Hoh Buzzard (Patrick Valenzuela) as the front-runner quickly dropped back.
Nadeszhda widened the advantage in the lane after completing the mile in 1:35. But she was unable to outlast the winner.
"At the five-furlong pole, I tried to open up a little bit because I know that filly (Megahertz) is going to be very strong," Garcia said. "It was a good idea, and I think she ran great."
Winner of the 1 1/8-mile Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT) in her 2005 debut March 20, Megahertz has won eight of 12 on the Santa Anita turf course in her career, including the two previous runnings of the Santa Barbara. In each of her earlier Santa Barbara wins, she came from off the pace to win by a length or less as a heavy favorite. She was much farther back on Sunday.
She returned $3.20, $2.60, and $2.20 while collecting $120,000 for her owner Bello of Newport Coast. She has now won 12 of 30 lifetime, with five seconds and five thirds and earnings of $1,691,594.
Nadeszhda, who was making her graded stakes debut for Neil Drysdale after beginning her career in Great Britain, returned $5.40 and $3.20. Hoh Buzzard's show was $3.40.
Uraib finished fourth, a half-length in front of the 4-1 second choice Moscow Burning. Midwife and Ask for the Moon trailed.