Friday, March 16, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: 2018 Santa Margarita Stakes (G1)

Speed May Rule Santa Margarita Stakes

By: Nick Costa, Trackside with Trackman 

The Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes comes our way this Saturday from beautiful Santa Anita in Arcadia, California. A field of 10 fillies and mares, four-year old and up have been confirmed for the 1 1/8-mile contest and will be after the winner’s share of the $400,000 purse. 

The dynamics of the race lineup suffered a major hit recently when it was announced 2017 female sprinter Eclipse Champion, Unique Bella, was withdrawn from consideration due to a recent bout with a cough. In her most recent start last month, the 4-year old daughter of Tapit, owned by the Don Alberto stable and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, dominated the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes, scoring by nine-lengths. The gray daughter of Tapit is now being pointed for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes April 13th at Oaklawn Park.

Despite the absence of his star filly, trainer Hollendorfer, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, still has representation in the race, as he sends out Turkish Tabby and Eccentric Spinster. The two stablemates have produced one dirt start in 17 races combined.

Since the inaugural running in 1935, the Santa Margarita has attracted some of the greatest champion mares in Thoroughbred racing who have used the race as a stepping stone to award-winning campaigns. Winners of this race include Horse of the Year winner’s Azeri and Zenyatta in addition to other champions such as Lady’s Secret, Bayakoa, Paseana, Jewel Princess and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners Life is Sweet and Adoration.

Post time is slated for 4:00 p.m. local time. Let’s take a look at entrants from the rail out.

PP – Horse - Jockey/Trainer
1 - La Force – Mike Smith/Patrick Gallagher – German-bred filly spent the early part of her career racing in Italy before being shipped Stateside in the fall of 2016 and has called Southern California home ever since. Has more turf than dirt starts on her resume, however, her three Santa Anita main track races were excellent, including a third-place effort in the one-mile Grade 2 La Canada. Goes a bit further here.

2 - Turkish Tabby – Rajiv Maragh/Jerry Hollendorfer – Lightly raced five-year old with only nine starts, comes off three consecutive runner-up finishes at Golden Gate, the last two being narrow losses by a nose. She tries the dirt for the first time since her debut 18 months ago.

3 - Mended – Carlos Gonzalez/ John Martin - An amazing 10-race winning streak by this mare was snapped in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes last out when she lost a heartbreaker by a head bob at the wire. She displayed versatility during her streak, winning on synthetic, turf and dirt. Last year at this time, one could have claimed her for 12.5k, but since then, she has  ascended nicely up the ladder. She’s proved at least for now, that she deserves to be here.

4 - Dalsaros – Tyler Baze/Gaines – One year ago, following a dismal debut, she broke her maiden in a one-mile romp, winning by daylight. A setback caused her to be sidelined before returning in December in a six-furlong sprint obviously designed as a tightener. Getting back around two-turns is her forte as she won and finished second against allowance foes in her two subsequent starts. This placement is a bit ambitious, but the mare has good current form.

5 - Mistressofthenight – Kent Desormeaux/Richard Baltas – Two of her three wins have been on the dirt here at the ‘Great Race Place’, including a two-turn event just three weeks ago in allowance company, so we know she likes this track. She makes her third start off a layoff, and her trainer excels in that category with a high win rate. However, this is a difficult spot.

6 - Majestic Heat – Corey Nakatani/Richard Mandella – Much of her success has come on the turf. However, she became a graded stakes winner for the first time winning the Grade 2 Bayakoa with an off-the-pace run in her second dirt start in December. Failed to get the job done against state-bred runners last time out. The cut back to six panels may have been too short for her liking, so I’ll give her a pass. She may go better here stretching back out in her fourth start of the year.

7 - Bishop’s Pond – Victor Espinoza/Jason Servis – Eastern invader returned to work in January after a six-week layoff to claim her first stakes victory in an ungraded event at Laurel Park going eight furlongs. She was in control of the race throughout, winning by five-and-a-half lengths. In her only appearance at this level last fall in the Beldame Stakes, she vied for the lead into the stretch, before tiring to finish fifth.

8 - Eccentric Spinster – Joel Rosario/Jerry Hollendorfer – Ships down from Northern California to test the dirt after competing exclusively over the synthetic surface at Golden Gate. Has won three races from eight career starts, but nothing higher than allowance level. Only out-of-the-money finish was a fifth-place showing in a minor stake.

9 - Mopotism – Mario Gutierrez/Doug O’Neill – Had a busy sophomore season in 2017 competing with and holding her own against some of the best females in the country. One case in point: She ended her three-year old campaign third behind Unique Bella and Paradise Woods going 7-furlongs in the Grade 1 La Brea here on opening day in December. She won a thrilling edition of the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes by a head bob in January to open her four-year old year. Last month, she was runner-up in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes, but again was no match for Unique Bella.

10 - Fault – Franco Giovanni/Phil D’Amato – Other than a couple of dirt starts early in her career, one of which she broke her maiden in, this filly has been campaigned on the turf. Has competed at seven different tracks winning a pair of graded stakes on the grass. The most recent one came in her 2018 debut when she returned from nearly a two-month layoff to rally from off the pace in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Stakes.

Analysis: There is plenty of speed signed on here with several need to lead types, therefore, I’m anticipating a hot pace. A horse that can relax behind the leaders should benefit nicely from the race flow.

As mentioned above, Mopotism chased quite a roster of star quality fillies several times last year and performed quite admirably. This event is devoid of opponents of that stature making this appear to be a bit of a class relief for the O’Neill runner. It’s Mopotism’s race to lose. Look for her sit a good trip in mid-pack, then turn on the after burners in the latter stages.  She gets the call for the win.

La Force was just beaten a neck by the top choice two back in the Grade 2 La Canada, and her last race was a confidence booster when beating allowance foes. She appears poised for a big effort and should get a ground saving trip.

Mended is blazing fast, but other speedsters in here will make sure she doesn’t get away. The mare will negate the chances of those pressing her, but her early efforts may leave her vulnerable navigating that extra furlong. She could stick around for a piece.

Fault has a win and a third in graded competition at nine furlongs on the turf, so the Santa Margarita distance would not appear to be an issue, but the surface switch is the major question.

Wager: With $100 ThoroFan dollars, we will make a $40 win bet on Mopotism. Let’s take the remaining sixty-dollars and play $20 straight exactas with Mopotism over the other three horses.

Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race!

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