French Connection to Las Cienegas Finish

(from Santa Anita report)
French group I winner Etoile Montante could be next the big United States star for the Juddmonte Farm/Bobby Frankel team.

In her second American start, Etoile Montante exerted her class in the final furlong, taking the lead a furlong from home and holding off French-bred Dedication for a half-length victory Sunday in the $112,800 Las Cienegas Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares at Santa Anita Park.

Ridden by Javier Santiago at high weight of 121 pounds, Etoile Montante ran about 6 ½ furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:13 1/5. The winner paid $4.40, $3.60 and $2.80.

Dedication, Corey Nakatani riding at 118 pounds, emerged from the pack to offer a stiff challenge in the lane, but couldn't keep pace with the winner late. The runner-up paid $3.40 and $2.60.

Any for Love, with Victor Espinoza aboard at 115 pounds, also finished well to take third and paid $4.

Polygreen finished fourth and was followed by Notting Hill, How Funny, Little Treasure, Fudge Fatale and Petite Histoire.

Etoile Montante stalked the pace inside down the hill rallied along the rail in the stretch to gain a short lead and was all-out to best Dedication.

Etoile Montante defeated males in the Prix de la Foret (Fr-I) as a 3-year-old in her final start in France at Longchamp Oct. 12, hadn't raced since an 11th place finish as the favorite in the Matriarch (gr. I) at Hollywood Park last November.

Interestingly, Dedication won the Prix de la Foret in her final European start in 2002.

"I waited for the top of the stretch to ask her," said Santiago, who has ridden 28 winners since arriving from Puerto Rico in February. "When I asked her to run, she just went on."

For Frankel, it was his third straight victory in the Las Cienegas and his 106th stakes victory at Santa Anita, placing him third behind Charlie Whittingham and Ron McAnally on the track's all-time trainer list. Overall, Frankel has 794 wins at Santa Anita, second only to Whittingham's 869.

"She looked like a good sprinter on form," Frankel said of Etoile Montante. "We gave her a lot of time after her last race. There's no place else to sprint her so I'll probably run her a mile next time at Churchill ($100,000 Argent Mortgage Distaff Turf Mile on May 1). Heat Haze won that race last year."

A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred by Miswaki–Willstar (by Nureyev, Etoile Montante is 6-2-1 from 11 starts with earnings of $386,808.

In a companion feature, Hope Rises held off Summer Wind Dancer by a head in the $85,725 Santa Lucia Handicap for fillies and mares. David Flores rode Hope Rises for trainer Ron Ellis and Jay Em Ess Stable. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred by Mr. Greeley ran 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.42 and paid $8.40.

Hope Rises has four wins from six starts with earnings of $153,735.

Pesci, co-owned by actor Joe Pesci, finished third, and 8-5 favorite Royally Chosen faded to finish seventh and last.

(Chart, Equibase)