Secret Liaison wasn't supposed to go to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares, but when she did, jockey Corey Nakatani decided he'd tag along for what proved to be a dominating four-length victory.
Riding for Scott Gunther's Desperado Stable and trainer Ted H. West, Nakatani said he was fully confident in the 5-year-old Housebuster mare.
"Ted really has her number," he said. "She ran a big race. The plan wasn't to go for the lead, but when she left there running so easy and made the lead under a pretty good hold, I just went on with it. When I asked her at the top of the stretch, she just took off. She's a runnin' mare."
Secret Liaison covered the 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:15 2/5, drawing away in the stretch ahead of Lacie Girl, who finished a length in front of Spring Meadow.
The 2-1 favorite, Cee's Elegance stalked the pace, but made no impact in the stretch to be fourth, while 5-2 second choice Madame Pietra, carrying top weight of 122 pounds, finished sixth.
Secret Liaison, breaking from the outside post in the field of eight under 116 pounds, went :22 for the opening quarter-mile, :45 for the half , and 1:09 for six furlongs. By then, it was all but over.
The victory had even the normally reserved West effusive.
"The secret to her is to just let her run," he said. "I knew when she got away with an easy first quarter, she'd be tough. She's a special filly. I thought we'd have a lot more pace pressure. We were even prepared to take off the lead. She closes like an amazing horse.
"Also, she can press fast fractions. She went 44 flat in the A Gleam last year and just got beat a head. I don't think it was the pace, she was just way the best today. She lulls the other horses into believing they can catch her and then she just kicks away from them and rips the heart out of them at the top of the stretch."
Secret Liaison earned $90,000 for her seventh win in 14 career outings to increase her overall winnings to $342,719. It was her first graded stakes win.
Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds Liberation Farm and Elia bred the winner in Kentucky.
The 7-2 third choice paid $9.40, $5.40 and $4.60. Lacie Girl, who finished with determination under Russell Baze to emerge second best, returned $6 and $4. Spring Meadow, who also closed well, showed for $5 with Julie Krone riding.
Valenzuela said Madame Pietra would not relax in her first start since winning the Desert Stormer (gr. III) at hollywood Park June 7.
"She was just too fresh," he said. "She was laying up too close. Normally she's four or five lengths back there, but she just wanted to go too early today."