Local standouts Taris and Tara's Tango appear to have their hands full in the $500,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) March 19 at Santa Anita Park.
Travelling west to challenge from out of town are last-out stakes winners in Penwith and Lavender Chrissie.
All four will be seeking their first grade I score. Both Taris and Tara's Tango cut their two-turn teeth in grade II stakes last time out at Santa Anita. Santa Anita Park, Saturday, March 19, 2016, Race 9
Taris—trained by Simon Callaghan for Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and John Mangier—was a three-time graded winner going one turn until the Jan. 16 La Canada (gr. II), which the 5-year-old Flatter mare won by 5 1/4 lengths under jockey Gary Stevens.
BALAN: Taris Passes Two-Turn La Canada Test
Tara's Tango, owned by Stonestreet Stables and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, also clinched her first two-turn victory Feb. 13 in the Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II), but will have to replace her jockey from the half-length win. Martin Garcia will be at Oaklawn Park Saturday to pilot Cupid in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II), so leading rider Rafael Bejarano will be in the irons aboard the Unbridled's Song filly.
BALAN: Tara's Tango Gets Up in Santa Maria
Of the eastern entries, Penwith is most formidable on paper. Godolphin's 5-year-old Bernardini mare, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, broke through in style for her first graded win Feb. 13 in the Royal Delta Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. Undefeated in two starts this year, she's won both contests with relative ease by a combined five lengths.
Penwith will have a new jockey aboard for her fourth straight start. Hall of Famer Mike Smith takes over for Luis Saez, who rode her to victory in the Royal Delta.
NOVAK: Penwith Lands Graded Score in Royal Delta
Lavender Chrissie's margin of victory (three lengths) last time out equals Penworth's, but the Scat Daddy filly trained by Dale Romans for West Point Thoroughbreds will have to take a significant step up in class. Her last start and win came in the Nov. 25 Zia Park Oaks, but she lacks the graded experience of the other top contenders in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita.
Lavender Chrissie has four wins from seven starts, but finished eighth in her only other graded try, the 2015 Eight Belles Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
Also in the field is HnR Nothhaft Horse Racing's multiple grade II winner Living The Life, who tops the field in wins (nine) and earnings ($827,704) but has yet to be victorious on dirt. The Footstepsinthesand mare has an 8-4-2 record from 17 starts on synthetic footing. She's winless in five starts on dirt, but was only 1 1/4 lengths behind Tara's Tango, in third, last time out in the Santa Maria.
Last-out allowance winners Moyo Honey and All Star Bub complete the field.
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Living The Life (IRE) Flavien Prat 118 Gary Mandella 8/1 2 2Tara's Tango (KY) Rafael Bejarano 118 Jerry Hollendorfer 2/1 3 3Penwith (KY) Mike E. Smith 118 Kiaran P. McLaughlin 2/1 98 4Lavender Chrissie (KY) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN - 4 5Moyo Honey (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 118 Patrick Gallagher 12/1 5 6All Star Bub (KY) Martin A. Pedroza 118 Jerry Hollendorfer 15/1 6 7Taris (KY) Gary L. Stevens 118 Simon Callaghan 8/5
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, March 19, 2016, Race 9