Mike Pegram's homebred Pussycat Doll emulated her dam Hookedonthefeelin Saturday when she demolished a strong field in the $250,000 La Brea (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies on a sloppy Santa Anita track.
In the final grade I race of 2005, the daughter of Pegram's Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Real Quiet
made up about a dozen lengths from the three-eighths pole to win splashing away by 5 3/4 lengths under Garrett Gomez for trainer Bob Baffert. Undeterred by the heavy rain falling, the La Brea was the first graded stakes triumph for Pussycat Doll, who won for the third time in five starts this year.
"She was sitting on a race like this," Baffert said. "I was leery about running her on this track but all the riders said it was safe and even, so ... I was borderline thinking scratch, but I told Mike, 'She's doing so awesome, she's training so fantastic, that you just hate not to run her.' But I did tell Garrett that if she wasn't handling it, don't abuse her, but she settled nice."
Pussycat Doll, starting on the extreme outside in a field of 11, went off at odds of 6-1 in the finest race of her brief career.
The grade I winner Leave Me Alone, who challenged the leaders while four wide on the turn, was getting to the pacesetting My Miss Storm Cat before Pussycat Doll swept past them both. She was clearly the best of the rest for Kent Desormeaux, finishing 4 1/2 lengths clear of Thrilling Victory and Martin Pedroza, who came on for third. Final time for the seven-furlong La Brea on a sealed track labeled "wet fast" was an excellent 1:21 1/5.
Under allowance conditions, Pussycat Doll carried 119 pounds, four less than Leave Me Alone.
Pussycat Doll's final time was three-fifths of a second better than Hookedonthefeelin ran the La Brea in winning for Pegram and Baffert in 1999. Pussycat Doll's other two victories this year were in route races. She broke her maiden on New Year's Eve in 2004 on a sloppy Santa Anita strip going one mile.
"Her mama won this race in 1999 and (Pussycat Doll) won a race here last year," Pegram noted while rain pelted the Santa Anita winner's circle, "so we had a lot going for us. She wants two turns and would rather not have the mud, but we'll take it."
After breaking well on the outside of Leave Me Alone, Pussycat Doll was taken back and was far back in the big field as Resident Alien took the early lead before yielding to My Miss Storm Cat through sizzling fractions of :21 1/5 and :43 1/5. Leave Me Alone, settling on the outside in the second flight of horses, kicked into gear at the head of the turn and had the measure of her front-running rivals, but she was no match for the winner in the stretch run.
"She handled the track OK, but she wasn't skipping over it," Gomez said of the winner. "I let her settle and took my time. I knew there was a lot of speed and when I dropped her in at the three-eighths pole, it was just a matter of finding a spot for her."
Pussycat Doll ($15.40, $7.20 and $5.80) improved her record to 4-1-1 in eight starts and nearly doubled her earnings to $320,823.
Baffert was non-committal about plans for his filly, but added, "I'm going to win a lot of money with her."
The Eric Kruljac-trained Leave Me Alone ($5.40, $4.20) was looking for a grade I bookend on the West Coast for her victory at seven furlongs in the Test (gr. I) at Saratoga this summer. She redeemed herself following an eighth-place finish as a 4-5 favorite in the Raven Run (gr. II) at Keeneland in her most recent effort Oct. 22.
Thrilling Victory ($7.40) shipped south for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer following back-to-back stakes wins at Golden Gate Fields.
Sharp Lisa, a grade I winner at Santa Anita last January returning from an 8 1/2-month vacation, wound up another length behind in fourth after bobbling at the start and showing no early speed.
Grade II grass winners Three Degrees and Shining Energy, both expected to make their first starts on dirt, were scratched, as was Soldier's Kiss.
Berbatim finished fifth, followed by Great Intentions, the stronger half of a Barry K. Schwartz-owned entry that went off as a lukewarm 3-1 choice, Resident Alien, Trickle of Gold, My Miss Storm Cat, Simply Because and Mystic Chant.
Earlier on the card, Awesome Lady pulled away from the field at the head of the stretch under Tyler Baze to record a 3 1/2-length victory in the $112,600 Monrovia Handicap. The race, originally scheduled for the downhill turf course at about 6 1/2 furlongs, had to be switched to the main track due to the course conditions and lost its grade III status pending a review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
Beneficial Bartok (Corey Nakatani) closed from last to take the runner-up spot, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Allswellthatnswell (Isaias Enriquez).
The Gary Stute-trained Awesome Lady, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred bay filly by Bianconi, won for the seventh time in 28 starts and earned $67,560 for owners Mike Cavanaugh, Clement Hirsch Jr. and Stute. She boosted her total to $284,758.
The winner paid $13.20, $5.60 and $4. Beneficial Bartok returned $4.80 and $3.80. Allswellthatnswell was $4.80 to show.
Morning line favorite Elusive Diva was one of four horses to scratch from the race. Guidebook, the 7-5 favorite among the nine that went to the post, led through early fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 3/5 but tired in the stretch and finished fourth.