Trailing slow fractions racing last in a short field of five, Stonestreet Stables' homebred Tara's Tango was still able to rally past rivals late to win the $500,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) March 19 at Santa Anita Park.
The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly patiently brought up the rear while Penwith set fractions of :23.69, :48.65, and 1:13.32 through six furlongs with 4-5 favorite Taris stalking in second, just off the pace.
Taris took over in the stretch, but could not hold off the late drive on the outside from Tara's Tango, who found another gear and bested her rival by a length, completing the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:50.44 under first-time rider Rafael Bejarano. Living The Life finished another 1 1/4 lengths back in third, and Penwith tired to finish fourth. Moyo Honey completed the order of finish.
"I was able to put my horse into position right away," Bejarano said. "I waited for the opportunity and when we got to the stretch, she gave me a big turn of foot and I know I could beat the favorite."
The winner paid $7.20, $3, and $2.40 across the board as the 5-2 second choice. Taris brought $2.40 and $2.10, and Living The Life delivered $3 to show.
"I was surprised when Tara's Tango ran by me," said Taris' jockey, Gary Stevens. "When I turned in the stretch, she switched over to her right lead and she kicked. As you could see, I was giving her a nice hand ride and when I saw that gray head come up, I said 'Really?'"
It was the first grade I score for the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Tara's Tango, but her second graded victory in a row, following her win in the Feb. 13 Santa Maria (gr. II). She was also running with blinkers for the first time, which came from a suggestion by jockey Martin Garcia, who rode Tara's Tango in the Santa Maria, but was at Oaklawn Park Saturday riding Cupid to victory in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II).
"He said she was running in spots and suggested the blinkers," Hollendorfer said. "They're just small ones, but they helped. It was an exciting race and I'm very proud to get a grade I for the owner. She got a good trip and showed a lot of heart running down the favorite."
Now with a 4-3-1 record from 10 starts, Tara's Tango nearly doubled her earnings with the $300,000 winner's share. She was bred in Kentucky, out of the French Deputy mare Scarlet Tango.