Santa Margarita Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park
With Jerry Hollendorfer's Eclipse Champion Unique Bella sidelined due to a minor illness, Saturday's Grade I, $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes shapes up as perhaps one of the best betting races of the Winter/Spring Meet at Santa Anita as a wide-open field of 10 older fillies and mares have signed on to go a mile and one eighth.
Doug O'Neill's Mopotism, John Martin's Mended, Phil D'Amato's Fault and Paddy Gallagher's La Force all loom prominent in what will be the 81st running of Santa Anita's signature race for distaffers that has been won by some of the sport's all-time greats such as Busher (1945), Bug Brush (1959), Silver Spoon (1960), Gamely (1968), Lady's Secret (1986), Bayakoa (1989 & 90), Azeri (2002) and Zenyatta (2010).
||La Force (GER)
With three solid starts to her credit at the current meet, she was most recently second, beaten nine lengths by superstar Unique Bella in the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles Santa Maria Stakes Feb. 10. A Kentucky-bred 4-year-old filly by Uncle Mo, Mopotism earned a career-best 95 Beyer Speed figure in defeat. Just up to deny Mended by a head two starts back in the Grade II La Canada Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 13, she was third, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Unique Bella three races back, in the Grade I, seven furlong La Brea Stakes here on Dec. 26.
Well-traveled last year, she ran 10 times at seven different tracks. The leading money earner in the field with $601,200, she's versatile in terms of pace, as she's proven effective stalking or rallying from mid-pack. With regular rider Mario Gutierrez back aboard, she'll be making her 17th career start.
Owner: Reddam Racing, LLC | Trainer: Doug O'Neill
An incredible story, this 5-year-old Kentucky-bred mare by Broken Vow was haltered for $12,500 by Martin 12 starts back at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 6, 2017 and she promptly reeled off 10 consecutive wins, including a one mile restricted stakes two starts back on Dec. 2 at Gulfstream Park. A dedicated front-runner, she again made all the running in her first-ever graded stakes assignment, the Grade II La Canada here on Jan. 13. Beaten a desperate head by Mopostism, Mended was back in front after the wire and through the gallop-out into the Club House turn.
Winless in two tries going a mile and a sixteenth (one on synthetic Tapeta and the other on turf) at age three, she'll try a mile and one eighth for the first time on Saturday. Although she had her 10-game winning streak snapped in the La Canada, she earned a career-best 91 Beyer Speed figure. With a remarkable overall record of 27-13-3-4, Mended has career earnings of $271,690 and will be ridden for the 11th consecutive time by Golden Gate Fields-based Ricardo Gonzalez.
Owner: Troy and Maritza Onorato n | Trainer: John Martin
Perhaps the up and comer in the lineup, she rallied from off the pace to win the Grade II, one mile turf Buena Vista Stakes Feb. 17 in what was her first start for D'Amato. Previously headquartered in New Orleans, this 4-year-old filly by Blame was off at 12-1 and won going away by one length under Giovanni Franco. With a win and a third (both in graded stakes competition) from two starts at a mile and one eighth on turf, the Santa Margarita distance wouldn't appear to be a problem, but the surface switch to the main track looms a major question.
A one mile maiden winner over a muddy surface in her second career start in January, 2017 at Fairgrounds in New Orleans, her remaining three wins have come on grass. Claimed 10 starts back for $50,000 on May 3, 2017 at Churchill Downs, Fault earned a career best 96 Beyer Speed figure in winning the Buena Vista and will be ridden back by Franco, who currently ranks eighth in the jockey standings with 22 wins. With earnings of $318,795, Fault will be making her 15th career start on Saturday.
Owner: Agave Racing Stable and Little Red Feather Racing | Trainer: Phil D'Amato
Dismissed at 27-1, she was third, beaten a neck by Mopotisim (and a head by Mended) in a thrilling three-way photo in the Grade II La Canada two starts back Jan. 13, earning a career-top Beyer of 91. Subsequently off as the heavy 1-2 favorite in a one mile first condition allowance on Feb. 16, she won by two comfortable lengths and appears poised for a big effort on Saturday.
A 4-year-old German-bred filly, she'll be seeking her first stakes win in her 15th stateside start. Originally campaigned exclusively on turf, she's made her last five starts on dirt and appears a good fit with Mike Smith riding her back in what will be her 18th overall start.
Owner: Ward & Roberta Williford and Charles Winner | Trainer: Paddy Gallagher