Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes, Santa Anita

Today’s feature at Santa Anita is the GR 1 Santa Margarita Stakes at 1 1/8 Mile for Fillies and Mares. This race showcases a matchup between last year’s BC Fillies and Mares sprint winner Finest City and the ultra-impressive Vale Dori , who has reeled off 3 straight GR 2 wins on the west coast. In addition, there are a couple of others that warrant consideration in this race. In post position order:
1. 20-1 Autumn Flower : Fading pattern. She has finished in Vale Dori’s wake in her last three, and her Numbers have tailed off from a modest 10.1 Best. Connections have fair stats. Would surprise me.

2. 9-5 Vale Dori: Slight Fading pattern. Her mild fading pattern from her 5.8 Best three races back, may be a bit of a mirage, as she has dominated in each of her last 4 races. I do note that Show Stealer was closing a bit of ground in her latest at a 1 1/6 Mile even after very modest splits. I expect the early pace to be much hotter today, and I am not sure that extra ½ furlong plays to Vale Dori’s advantage. Connections Baffert and Bejarano are as good as it gets. Very Dangerous!

3. 8-5 Finest City: Circle Back pattern. As noted, the morning line slight favorite tallied in the BC Sprint for Fillies and Mares going 7 furlongs in November, posting a quick 5.3, which is off her 3.1 Best she posted last year chasing Beholder. After 2 ½ months on the bench, Finest City returned in January to dominate a GR 2 field going 7 furlongs, posting a 4.7, which stamps her with the Circle Back pattern. To emphasize her class, she was beaten a head in a GR 2 at 1 1/8 on the Turf last September. Connections have very good stats. There is no questioning her class, however I am concerned about the gaps between her races, and the 2 furlong stretch out. Very Dangerous!

4. 8-1 Show Stealer: Mild Circle Back pattern. As mentioned, she closed a bit of ground against Vale Dori in her most recent at a slightly shorter distance and into a very modest pace. Both the extra distance and the expected more contentious pace appear to play to Show Stealer’s advantage today. Her 8.0 Best is fairly modest for these. Connections have solid stats. In an interesting Jockey shuffle, I do note that Desormeaux ends up here after previously riding Finest City, and Show Stealer’s regular jockey Baze ends up on Finest City. If they go too fast early, she could be picking them up late. Longshot with a shot!

5. 20-1 Lady Tapit: One race regression. She bounced slightly in her latest from a very modest 9.5 Best. Connections have solid stats. Will need huge improvement.

6. 5-1 Perfect Pic: Fading pattern. She actually posted a blistering fast 4.1 Best in her 6 furlong debut last August. Since then, she has come nowhere near that Number in her last 6 races, although she did score in gutsy fashion in her latest, which was her first Turf try, posting a very modest 11.3. She does figure to help insure a fast early pace. Connections have decent stats. Will need sharp improvement.

7. 6-1 Wild at Heart: Marching pattern. She posted her 5.8 Best in her most recent, a Big win score in a GR 3 at a flat Mile, after chasing Vale Dori in her previous two. Her style may suit for the extra distance, as she figures to sit just off an expected hot pace, although she is unproven at 1 1/8 Mile. Trainer Mandella is excellent, and I have become a big fan of jockey Prat. My upset pick!

8. 15-1 Estrechada: Rest then Best pattern. She posted an improved 13.8 Best in her most recent runner up effort in a 1 ½ Mile on the Turf Stakes at Santa Anita. Connections have decent stats, and she is the only one cutting back in distance. Will need a huge step forward.

Top choices Finest City and Vale Dori certainly have impressive credentials; however they also have vulnerabilities. I expect Wild at Heart and Show Stealer to run well.