(Fair Maiden / Benoit Photo & Courtesy of Santa Anita)
From the Santa Anita Media Team:
A longshot winner of the opening day G1 La Brea Stakes, trainer Eoin Harty’s Fair Maiden will seek to validate that victory as she heads a solid field of 12 older fillies and mares going seven furlongs in Saturday’s G2, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita.
Dismissed at 20-1 in the Dec. 26 La Brea, Fair Maiden rallied for an emphatic 2 ¼ length win, as a pair of Bob Baffert fillies, Golden Principal and Merneith, ran second and third. Harty, a former assistant to Baffert, will have to again contend with those two plus yet another Baffert runner, Qahira, who will be making her first Grade I appearance on Saturday.
Last year’s winner as the 3-5 favorite, Hard Not to Love, has been winless in her last five races, all routes, and will try to rebound for John Shirreffs with the first time services of leading rider Juan Hernandez.
A 4-year-old filly by Street Sense, Godolphin, LLC’s homebred Fair Maiden settled nicely when ridden for the first time by Ricky Gonzalez and she was able to exploit fast fractions of 21.80, 44.40 and 1:09.80 en route to a final clocking of 1:22.60 and a career-best 92 Beyer Speed figure. The win also provided Gonzalez, who shifted his tack from Golden Gate Fields to Southern California last year, with his first-ever Grade I win.
“I’ve been watching Ricky ride since he came down here and I think he’s the next superstar,” said Harty following the La Brea. “He’s brave and he puts his horse in a spot to win. I grab him every time I can because I think he’s a world class rider…”
With four wins from eight career starts, Fair Maiden, along with six others, will be facing older mares for the first time.
As is seemingly always the case, Baffert holds a very strong hand on Saturday. Golden Principal, who was off at 12-1 in the La Brea, finished 1 ½ lengths clear of her stablemate Merneith while neither were any match for Fair Maiden.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Golden Principal, a 4-year-old filly by Constitution, appears to be on the improve and will likely stalk the early pace with regular rider Mike Smith up.
Ridden by John Velazquez in the La Brea, Merneith will be ridden for the first time by Edwin Maldonado, who is regarded as an outstanding gate rider, making it likely that she’ll blast off from the rail and try to take the field gate to wire. A 4-year-old daughter of American Pharoah, Merneith, who was off at 7-2 in the La Brea, is owned by HRH Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud. With an overall mark of 9-3-3-2, she’ll be seeking her first Grade I win.
Quick from the blocks, Baffert’s Qahira, a one length winner as the 3-2 favorite of the ungraded Kalookan Queen Stakes going 6 ½ furlongs on Jan. 10, has won five of her eight starts. With Joel Rosario back aboard, Qahira, who is owned by Baoma Corporation, has one win from two tries at seven furlongs and looms extremely dangerous as she shoots for her first graded stakes win.
Third, beaten six lengths in the Grade III La Canada Stakes going a mile and one sixteenth on Jan. 9, Hard Not to Love has two wins from three tries at seven furlongs, including last year’s Santa Monica. Quite often temperamental as a result of the fact she races with one eye, Shirreffs is hoping Juan Hernandez can provide the Midas-touch as she gets back to sprinting for the first time since Feb. 15 of last year.
A 5-year-old Ontario-Canadian-bred mare by Hard Spun, the appropriately named Hard Not to Love is owned by Mercedes Stables, LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Dorothy and David Ingordo and Steve Mooney. With an overall mark of 11-5-3-2, Hard Not to Love, who also won last year’s Grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs, has earnings of $592,980.
Lending further depth to a quality field is Richard Mandella’s Amuse, who was second, beaten one length by Qahira in the Jan. 10 Kalookan Queen. A 6-year-old mare by Medaglia d’Oro, Amuse has two wins from 11 starts and seeks her first graded stakes win for owners Bass Racing, LLC, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.
THE GRADE II SANTA MONICA WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 8 of 9 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT
- Merneith–Edwin Maldonado–120
- Miss Stormy D–Tyler Baze–120
- Fair Maiden–Ricardo Gonzalez–124
- Hard Not to Love–Juan Hernandez–120
- Qahira–Joel Rosario–120
- Golden Principal–Mike Smith–120
- Secret Keeper–Abel Cedillo–120
- Amuse–Drayden Van Dyke–120
- Proud Emma–Geovanni Franco–122
- Pharoah’s Heart–Jessica Pyfer–120
- Biddy Duke–Umberto Rispoli–122
- Bohemian Bourbon–Flavien Prat–120
First post time for a nine-race card on Saturday is at 12:30 p.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com.