In conjunction with Tom Hall's Throwback Thursday features in BloodHorse Daily, BloodHorse.com each Thursday will present corresponding race stories from the pages of the magazine. This week is a recap of the 1975 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita Park won by Chris Evert. Written by Robert Hebert with the headline, "A Strong Return" the story appeared in the Feb. 10, 1975 issue.
At the Eclipse Awards dinner in San Francisco on Friday evening, Jan. 31, Carl Rosen's Chris Evert was honored as the nation's best 3-year-old filly of 1974. The next afternoon, champion Chris began 1975 in a most auspicious fashion, with a thrilling triumph over longshot Mercy Dee in the $50,000-added La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Even so, on a weekend that attracted a crowd totaling 65,485 despite cold and threatening weather, Chris Evert had to share the spotlight with William Haggin Perry's Okavango, which was up in the last few strides to beat favored Tallahto in the $50,000-added San Pasqual Handicap. In each case the margin of victory was only a nose.
Chris Evert carried 128 pounds over 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, equaling what was then the fastest time of the meeting for the distance. Okavango, a 5-year-old with 114 pounds in the saddle, won his San Pasqual over the same distance in 1:41 2/5 as his better-known and more highly regarded stablemate Forage finished a well-beaten eighth after showing early speed.
The La Canada, a new stakes, is sportingly designed for 4-year-old fillies and the highweights were two easterners—Chris Evert and Dan Lasater's Honky Star. The latter, a daughter of Bupers with an impost of 122, never threatened; finishing fifth and beaten eight lengths in the seven-horse field.
Chris Evert had speed from the start, but was content with third place until she reached the backstretch. Jorge Velasquez dropped her in on the rail behind Quaze Quilt and Modus Vivendi going around the clubhouse turn. Then Velasquez, who has been aboard the fine daughter of Swoon's Son in every start since last May, sent her up between the two leaders. The big, 16-hand filly got to the front then fought off one challenger after another.
At the half-mile pole, she led Quaze Quilt which had beaten her in the Alabama Stakes (G1) by a half-length. At the three-eighths pole, Quaze Quilt was on the move again and only a head away. Rounding the far turn, Chris Evert drew out to lead by nearly a length, then with a quarter-mile to go, swung wide into the stretch for the final drive.
Mercy Dee, then moving strongly, was even wider as she came into the stretch but with a 12-pound pull in the weights, she gained rapidly. The unheralded daughter of Fleet Shoe drew up almost on even terms with Chris Evert but then could not get past. Lucky Spell, finishing well along the rail, had a shot at the winner, but was 1 3/4 lengths away in third place at the wire.
The victory was the 10th in 14 starts for Chris Evert and the $35,400 to the winner raised her earnings to $679,475, of which $385,400 has been won in California. Her other triumph in the Golden State was in last summer's $350,000 match with Miss Musket at Hollywood Park.
"I wouldn't discount the possibility of Chris Evert going in next week's Strub," trainer Joe Trovato advised after the La Canada. "She is doing well. On a scale of 10, I would rate her at 11 now."
If Chris Evert were to start in the $100,000-added Charles H. Strub Stakes, which seemed doubtful at the moment, she would have the maximum weight (121 pounds) for a filly, but carrying weight obviously is not a problem. The question concerns how the Strub fits in with the rest of her schedule for the rest of the winter.
"She's a running machine," Velasquez reported after the victory. "The weight didn't seem to bother her at all. You can do anything you want with her. I went to the lead down the backstretch so that dirt wouldn't hit her in the face. The hole was plenty big and we got through before those two closed it up."
The surprise of the La Canada, by any measure, was Mercy Dee, an improved daughter of Fleet Shoe which could have been purchased for $12,500 as a maiden last summer.
"She's a one-run type," jockey Bill Shoemaker said. "We had a real shot at it but Chris Evert came on again just when it counted."