Small Field Loaded With Talent Set for Las Virgenes

Not to be overshadowed by the colts gearing up for the Kentucky Derby (GI) from coast to coast on Saturday, six California-based fillies looking toward the Kentucky Oaks (GI) are set to race a mile in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on Sunday. The day’s feature is early on the day’s card and will run as the fourth race at 12:30 p.m. PT in cooperation with the special 11:00 a.m. first post to accommodate The Big Game in Minneapolis later in the day.

Since it was first run in 1983, the Las Virgenes has drawn the best fillies in the West who have their eyes on the blanket of lilies worn only by the winner of the Kentucky Oaks. The race, which also serves as a prep for the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) in early April, has over the years drawn the likes of Lite Light, Lakeway, Serena’s Song, Sharp Cat, Keeper Hill, Excellent Meeting, Surfside, Rags to Riches, Stardom Bound, Blind Luck, Beholder, Songbird and champion Unique Bella a year ago. This year, though a small field of six will assemble, the race features an undefeated Grade 1 winner as well as a deep pool of potential.

I don’t think anyone thinks Los Alamitos Starlet (GI) winner Dream Tree won’t be the heavy favorite. The undefeated daughter of Uncle Mo, who is trained by Bob Baffert, broke her maiden over this track before winning the Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar and the Starlet. She seems to be improving as she stretches out, too, and her speed figures are improving and as good as just about every stakes-winning colt at this age. Phoenix Thoroughbreds paid $750,000 for her as a Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-old in training 11 months ago and after a nice, long summer break, she hasn’t missed a beat since being put in full-time training in the fall. Regular rider Drayden VanDyke, who has been moving up the jockey ladder in the Baffert barn will be back aboard and it’s a good bet this one will be either on the lead or just behind it in the early going.

Baffert also sends out Thirteen Squared, a daughter of the nice, Grade 2-winning race mare House of Fortune for owner/breeder Arnold Zetcher. The front-running Liaison filly didn’t draw the most ideal post for this task going two turns, but jockey Tyler Baze knows the track well and will no doubt be hustling toward the front from the break. The filly broke her maiden by a whopping 6 ¾ lengths two months ago at this distance and makes a logical step into this level. She’s a solid workhorse in the morning (her five-furlong bullet two back was eye-popping) and though she’s only got the one win, she’s improving with each start. She’s a good bet to complete the Baffert exacta, though it won’t pay much.

Steph Being Steph won the Golden Gate in November before returning for a runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou in the Santa Ynez Stakes (GII) over this track a month ago. She hasn’t tried two turns yet, but this is a good spot and her increasing speed figures with each start indicate she’s ready for this tougher test. Trainer Brian Koriner has been a little on the cold side lately but is an exceptional trainer and this filly may be the shot in the arm his stable needs. She will get a hot pace she likes to sit off of so if she’s going to get it done, expect her to be rolling late down the lane.

She’s No Drama, who broke her maiden impressively at Los Alamitos in July, returns to Southern California after an allowance win and stakes placing behind Steph Being Steph in the Golden Gate Debutante on the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields. The Jeff Bonde trainee seems to have a sprinter pedigree as a daughter of Big Drama, but a mile may be something she can accomplish. She’ll be on the lead without a doubt, battling for early control, so if she has anything left in her tank for the stretch run she should be good enough for a board-hitting performance.

Exuberance broke her maiden over this track in the fall and then was fourth last out behind Dream Tree in the Starlet. She’s been training well for Ian Kruljac for the past two months and her best could be a board-hitting showing. She may be one to take a longer look at in the post parade.

Holy Diver was a decent fifth, beaten two lengths, in the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf in September but hasn’t done much since and seems overmatched here.

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