Amerman Racing's Balance overpowered her eight rivals in Sunday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) to make it back-to-back grade I victories for trainer David Hofmans and established herself as Southern California's leading contender for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Regular rider Victor Espinoza guided the 3-year-old filly with extreme confidence, giving ground on both turns while winning by 2 1/2 lengths over the maiden winner Quiet Kim, who ran a strong race while clearly second best for Patrick Valenzuela.
Wild Fit, the 13-10 favorite under Alex Solis, never threatened while rallying mildly through the stretch run to finish third, three lengths behind the runner-up. She was 1 1/2 lengths in front of fellow grade I winner Diplomat Lady.
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile Oaks was 1:42 4/5 on a dull track that was rated fast.
Balance, coming off a one-length win over Wild Fit in the one-mile Las Virgenes Feb. 11, was four wide on the clubhouse turn and continued to chase the pace of Cheerily while wide through early quarter-mile fractions of :23 4/5 and :47. Cheerily backed up quickly as the stalking Diplomat Lady and Tyler Baze took over after a six-furlong split of 1:11 3/5. Balance continued to make ground on the outside while five wide on the final turn, dueled briefly with Diplomat Lady and Quiet Kim in the stretch, then gradually pulled away under mostly hand urging from Espinoza.
"I knew I was wide down the backside, but she was doing it so comfortably," Espinoza said. "I would much rather lose ground with her than maybe get her upset weaving in and out of traffic. She's such an awesome filly, it really doesn't make a difference (running wide). She's so much more professional now ... she's finishing up like a champion in her races."
The bay daughter of Thunder Gulch
-Vertigineux (Kris S.), co-favored for the Kentucky Oaks along with Wild Fit in the last Churchill Downs future wager, earned $180,000 for her fourth victory in six starts. She has banked $513,300 for owners John and Jerry Amerman of Palos Verdes, Calif. Maverick Productions Limited bred Balance, a $260,000 Keeneland yearling sale in 2004, in Kentucky.
"She needed her last race (the Las Virgenes) and this was about right for her, coming back," said Hofmans, who is aiming Balance for the Kentucky Oaks. "She's the best 3-year-old filly I've had. I'm just telling you, I'm very impressed with her."
As the second choice, Balance paid $5.20, $3.60, and $2.10.
Quiet Kim, who took seven starts to break her maiden in her last start Feb. 10 for trainer Bob Hess Jr., returned $13.60 and $3. She capped a $98 exacta.
"We've always loved her; it's just it took a while for her to get her confidence up," Hess said. "That win last time got her mentally good, and Patrick gave us a great ride."
Wild Fit, now winless in her past four tries since winning the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) Aug. 27, was $2.20 to show. She tracked within a couple lengths of the winner into the far turn, but Solis was forced to the whip as they neared the straightaway.
"She finished steady," Solis said. "She ran the same pace from the three-sixteenths pole to the wire."
Diplomat Lady finished a nose better than Karlee's Kitten for fourth. Then came Sweet Belle, Horse B With You, I Can See, and the Irish-bred Cheerily.