'Aspen' scores in Santa Monica


Craig Stables homebred Home Sweet Aspen was under pressure throughout Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Monica Stakes but gutted out the neck win under jockey Joel Rosario. The John Sadler trainee ran seven furlongs on the Santa Anita fast track in 1:21 2/5 after setting splits of :45 2/5 and 1:09 1/5.

The Kentucky-bred daughter of Candy Ride returned to the winner's circle in the Santa Monica following a pair of unplaced efforts in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes and Cool Air Stakes in her last two. She captured an optional claimer and the Louis R. Rowan Stakes, which was her first black-type score, prior to those races, and was also second in the Grade 3 Eight Belles Stakes last May.

"Last time [in the La Brea], she was probably going a little too quick, but she was much better today -- she was impressive," Rosario said. "I kind of saw the other horse coming on the outside, so I just waited a little bit, but I knew she had a little more left because I let her go out easy early, and she did."

"These races came up good for her so we thought we would be in the first two sprints [including the December 31 La Brea]," Sadler said. "We won these races last year with Switch and I think this is a good sprinting filly, a good quality filly. It's pretty exciting to have her win a Grade 1. I felt she's capable and we got a good trip today. I thought she'd run well in here today."

Home Sweet Aspen was the 5-1 fourth choice in this seven-filly field, paying $13.60, $6.80 and $4.40. Sugarinthemorning and 2-1 favorite Rumor dueled with the winner for the opening half-mile, before the latter fell back when squeezed out of the way by 2-1 second pick Teddy's Promise. That runner attempted to slip through on the rail entering the turn, but Home Sweet Aspen tightened up the opening while battling neck and neck with Sugarinthemorning to the wire.

"I was just following the leaders and turning for home, she was a little bit intimidated going along the rail, which is understandable," said Victor Espinoza, who piloted Teddy's Promise. "We were really, really close. It was the only chance that I had to move on, but I felt I didn't have enough horse to go by the other ones in front.

"Things happen. The race didn't set up the way I wanted, but she's a good filly. This was her first time she was inside on the rail, but I think she will come back and run better next time."

Sugarinthemorning held second by 2 1/4 lengths over She's Cheeky, with Big Tiz and Teddy's Promise next under the line. Rumor and Bella Diamante completed the order of finish.

"He [Victor Espinoza] could never get her out," trainer Ron Ellis said of Teddy's Promise. "That's the first time she's ever had dirt hitting her in the face. I knew the inside post was going to be a problem for us."

Now boasting a 9-4-3-0 career mark, Home Sweet Aspen doubled her lifetime earnings to $355,822 with the Santa Monica winner's share. The four-year-old chestnut is out of the Groovy mare My Gal Groovy.