Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks will see one filly trying to validate her past Grade 1 triumph and another looking for a return to the form that saw her win last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The race is also the ticket for one filly to earn a guaranteed berth in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate as part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series, offering up 100 points to the winner.
SANTA ANITA OAKS DRAW
Fashion Plate currently sits in 19th on the Oaks leaderboard with just 10 points to her credit. Those came via her gate-to-wire victory in the Las Virgenes on February 1. The Simon Callaghan-trained miss hasn't competed since that contest and needs a win in the Santa Anita Oaks if she hopes to make the 14-horse Kentucky Oaks field.
Fashion Plate dropped her initial two starts as a juvenile while racing on synthetic surfaces in California, then closed out her 2013 campaign with a resounding 6 1/2-length score in her dirt debut at Santa Anita. The one-mile Las Virgenes was the Old Fashioned filly's first foray past six furlongs, and she'll try to extend her reach to 1 1/16 miles on Saturday with Gary Stevens returning to the saddle.
Ria Antonia earned the win in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via the disqualification of eventual two-year-old filly champion She's a Tiger. The bay lass just missed by a nose to that rival at Santa Anita and was expected to face males in her return to competition in the February 22 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. The initial plan was for Ria Antonia to go in the Kentucky Derby, but weather-related issues at Fair Grounds over the winter set the Rockport Harbor filly's training back.
Therefore, the decision was made by her owners to run Ria Antonia against her own division in the Rachel Alexandra before trying the boys in her next start. The sophomore miss offered no response in that 8 1/2-furlong event, winding up a well-beaten fourth on the wire. Subsequently transferred to Bob Baffert, Ria Antonia showed up at Santa Anita not long after that subpar debut and began preparations for the Santa Anita Oaks. Her most recent work came on Monday, with the Kentucky-bred lass speeding a bullet half-mile in :46 1/5 over the fast track.
Ria Antonia will get a jockey switch to Mike Smith on Saturday and break two outside of Fashion Plate's rail post.
While a lot of attention will be paid to both Fashion Plate and Ria Antonia, Arethusa and Artemis will be trying their best to upset the apple cart. The former put in a nice rally in the Las Virgenes to be third behind Fashion Plate while Artemis was a bit farther back in fifth. Like Fashion Plate, Arethusa hasn't been seen in competition since the Las Virgenes and will get Rafael Bejarano in the irons on Saturday.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer decided to take Artemis another route than Fashion Plate and Arethusa and entered his Empire Maker filly in the Santa Ysabel one month after the February 1 Las Virgenes. While she didn't win that day, the bay miss was a nice second and got some experience at the Santa Anita Oaks' distance of 1 1/16 miles. Victor Espinoza has the call on Artemis this go around.
Bajan's only try on a dirt surface resulted in the Callaghan runner taking the Anoakia last October. Surrounding that six-furlong event the Speightstown miss has successfully competed on synthetic tracks, including a 2 1/4-length victory in the Moccasin at Hollywood Park in November. Though she hasn't done too well in her past pair of races, Bajan could show improvement while returning to dirt on Saturday with Joe Talamo taking over for regular rider Espinoza.
Smoove It was third in the Anoakia and filled that same spot in the grassy Sweet Life last out on Santa Anita's downhill turf. The Doug O'Neill pupil will break from the far outside 8 post in the Santa Anita Oaks. Maiden winner Honey Ride and maiden claimer Kissin Lucky Lips complete the field.
Following the Santa Anita Oaks, 10 fellow sophomore fillies will line up in the Grade 3, $150,000 Providencia going nine furlongs on the turf. Diversy Harbor is two-for-two after taking the March 8 China Doll by a half-length over Nashoba's Gold, and will face off against that rival as well as third-placer Tiz Kissable again in the Providencia.
Sandwiched in between the Santa Anita Oaks and Providencia is the restricted $200,000 Evening Jewel featuring eight California-bred fillies and one Kentucky-bred miss sired by a California stallion. The 6 1/2-furlong sprint attracted Rovenna, who is seeking her first stakes triumph after placing in the California Cup Oaks, Soviet Problem and Golden State Juvenile Fillies.
The Evening Jewel is the sister race to the $200,000 Echo Eddie, which drew nine California-bred sprinters to kick off the stakes action on the Santa Anita Derby Day program. Stakes-placed winners Gangnam Guy and Pray Hard will battle it out for the honor of earning a first stakes win.