Vale Dori took heat early and kept on rolling in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes (G2) Jan. 14 at Santa Anita Park, impressively picking up her second consecutive grade 2 win and third straight victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Bettors' choice at 1-5, the 5-year-old daughter of Asiatic Boy was the target in a field of five older fillies and mares as she set out for the lead under regular rider Mike Smith. Jockey Flavien Prat immediately gave chase aboard graded stakes-placed Wild At Heart, who last time tangled with Vale Dori for a runner-up finish in the Dec. 3 Bayakoa Handicap (G2), but after following as close as a half-length behind opening fractions of :23.63, :47.58, and 1:12.43, that one gave way.
"What was impressive about it was, she took on some early heat from a really nice filly," Baffert said. "Wild At Heart is a good mare. Prat figured 'Don't let her get away,' so he went with us. She took her on early and didn't give it to her. Then at the three-eighths pole when Mike let her out a notch, I saw him make that 'adios' move and was hoping he didn't move her too early. She had something left at the end. She kicked away, she's improving."
Confidently handled by Smith off the turn for home in the 1 1/16-mile test, Vale Dori was asked for more when 13-1 shot Show Stealer made a mild inside bid. The winner drew off through a 1:38.37 mile and finished 2 1/2 lengths in front in a final time of 1:44.95 on the "good" main track. Show Stealer held for second, while 20-1 shot Autumn Flower managed third, ahead of Wild At Heart and Enduring Erin.
“She’s just gotten so good," Smith said. "They’ve done such a good job of getting her to relax. She’s really come around. I got on her when she first got here and she was nothing like this. She was very rank and very aggressive. To see her now, it’s a complete turnaround. She’s so calm, so cool. She went out there with a lot of confidence, a lot of class. She’s doing well right now and climbing the ladder.
“It’s important to have her versatility. I think she’s gotten to the point where she’s not a one dimensional horse and I think she’d even sit off of someone now if they wanted to get crazy. I look for her to do some great things. She’s got a long year ahead of her and hopefully she won’t run into my other big mare (champion Songbird) and I get to ride them both.”
Payoffs for Vale Dori were $2.60, $2.10, and $2.10, while Show Stealer returned $5.80 and $3.40 and Autumn Flower brought $5.
Bred in Argentina by Abolengo out of the Halo Sunshine mare Valerina, Vale Dori is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. She has finished no worse than third—that effort in the 2016 Zenyatta Stakes (G1) behind champions Stellar Wind and Beholder, no less—since her stateside debut for Baffert six starts ago in August.
"She’s come a long way," Baffert said. "It was tough to get a bridle on her before. She was tough. She’s improving and we see it. I’m just glad she’s doing well. We’ll get her ready for the big guns."
Vale Dori is a grade 1 winner in her native land and is grade 3-placed in Dubai, and improved her record to 6-3-1 from 11 starts for earnings of $574,943.
“I’m just glad that they kept her in training," Baffert said. "They were thinking of breeding her, so this is good to have. These good fillies are hard to get."