Santa Teresita, with just a minor stakes win previously, pulled a big surprise when she bettered a top-notch field of older fillies and mares in the Valentine's Day $300,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 14.
Ridden to perfection by Joe Talamo, the 5-year-old daughter of Lemon Drop Kid swept by the pacesetter Briecat on the far turn and refused to give way in the stretch after opening a big lead to cross the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front at odds of 13-1. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile journey on the Pro-Ride synthetic track was 1:41.88.
Marzelline, along the inside, and Model, on the far outside, both had Santa Teresita in their sights through the lane, but could not make an impact on the winner late and wound up in a dead-heat for second. The multiple grade II winner Leah's Secret came home fourth in what was probably her final start. Visit, the 3-2 favorite trained by Bobby Frankel, raced at the back of the pack and had no response in her first try on synthetics for jockey Garrett Gomez, finishing sixth.
It was hardly a memorable Santa Maria for Frankel, who was seeking his third straight win in the race. His other entrant in the Santa Maria, third choice Country Star, sat down in the gate as the field was being loaded and had to be a late scratch. The two-time grade I winner did not appear to be injured in the mishap. However, removing her from the precarious position and re-loading the gate did delay the start of the race for several minutes.
Santa Teresita, racing slightly off the rail, stalked a soft pace set by Briecat (:23.70, :47.58, and 1:11.56), who dropped out quickly as Santa Teresita challenged her on the outside. Santa Teresita owned a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole and would not be challenged while urged to the wire by Talamo.
“She just had a beautiful trip,” said Talamo after his third win on the Santa Anita program. “She’s a stalking kind of filly, and I was able to keep her relaxed outside of the (rail sitter Briecat), and that helped her to stay relaxed. At the quarter-pole, I said, ‘Okay, mama, let’s go,’ and she really gave it to me. She was striding out great, and this was a great way to finish up the day.”
Owned by Southern Equine Stable, who paid a reported $1 million for her last June, and trained by Eric Guillot, Santa Teresita ended a six-race losing streak since winning a minor stakes on Santa Anita's old synthetic track last April, her only prior added-money victory. She was overlooked in the wagering following a last-place finish on the turf in the Tuzla Handicap (gr. IIIT) in her most recent start Jan. 25. But she had some decent performances on synthetic tracks, where she has finished in the money in eight of 10 starts.
Included were runner-up finishes in the Hawthorne (gr. III) and Milady (gr. II) Handicaps at Hollywood Park and a third-place showing in the Lady's Secret (gr. I) at Oak Tree last fall, 4 1/2 lengths behind champion older female Zenyatta. That effort convinced her connections to try the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I), where she faded to seventh after pushing the pace and making a run at the victorious Zenyatta in the stretch.
Santa Teresita provided the 47-year-old Guillot, who has been training since 1986, with his first grade I victory. Guillot said he was optimistic going in.
“Coming back in three weeks with a race under her belt, she was coming to this race perfect,” said Guillot. “I was pretty high on her today. I thought she’d run big, and she did.”
The trainer said his only instructions to Talamo were not to get “buried on the rail.
“She hates it,” he explained. “She gets rank. But she was so good today. She ran huge.”
Guillot said he would consider the $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles March 14 for Santa Teresita’s next race.
Talamo had ridden Santa Teresita twice prior to the sale when she was trained by David Hofmans, including the Santa Lucia win.
Santa Teresita improved her career record to 4-3-2 in 13 starts while boosting her earnings to $393,430 with the winning purse of $180,000.
She paid $28.80, $12, and $7.60. Marzelline returned $9.20 and $9.60. Model's payoff was $3.80 and $4.20.
Marzelline, an 18-1 shot ridden by Tyler Baze, appeared to have the runner-up spot sewn up late, but Model (5-1) and Rafael Bejarano, who swung four wide into the lane after racing at the back of the pack for much of the trip, caught her at the wire to get the dead-heat.
It was 1 1/4 lengths to Leah's Secret and Eibar Coa, followed by Roshani, Visit, Briecat, and Mistical Plan. Besides Country Star, earlier scratches were Tizfiz and Bsharpsonata, who are expected to run in other races at Santa Anita this weekend, and Island Hop.