This year marks the 80th running of the Santa Margarita Stakes (GI) for older fillies and mares. And since the race was first contested in 1935, a venerable “who’s who” of the best race mares of all time have won the prestigious event. Long before Zenyatta won in 2010, legendary runners like Fairy Chant, Busher, Two Lea, Bed O’Roses, Silver Spoon, Gamely, Gallant Bloom, Turkish Trousers, Susan’s Girl, Glorious Song, Lady’s Secret, Bayakoa, Paseana, Jewel Princess, Azeri and Adoration emerged the victor in Santa Anita’s winter-meet spotlight for distaffers.
The weather in Southern California has turned very warm and Saturday will be no exception, with sunny skies and an afternoon high of 82 expected. It will be fast and firm all day at Santa Anita.
Local star Taris, coming off back-to-back victories in the Go For Wand Handicap (GIII) at Aqueduct in November and La Canada Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita in January, owns only one off-the-board finish in her 11-race career, though she will be attempting the nine-furlong distance for the first time on Saturday. The stretch-out really shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Taris, however, as all of her victories — from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles — have come by open lengths and her pedigree says longer distances are right up her alley.
Since trainer Simon Callaghan purchased the daughter of Flatter for $2.35 million for the partnership of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and John Magnier in late 2014, Taris has won three of six races for them, with a second and two thirds. Though she spent six months on the sidelines in 2015 with an ankle injury and subsequent surgery, she hasn’t missed a beat since returning to training last summer and the 5-year-old mare is more than capable of setting the pace if her rivals let her take the lead from the gate. She can also sit just off the pace and stalk under Hall-of-Famer Gary Stevens, waiting for the speed to tire in front of her to make her move.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin ships the well-bred Penwith in to California off a nice three-length victory in the Royal Delta Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park last month. She spent more than 11 months on the shelf battling injury last year, but has been exceptional in two races since returning and is training well at her winter base of Palm Meadows. Though McLaughlin isn’t afraid to ship, it’s a rare thing for him to send one all the way to California for a race that’s not a Breeders’ Cup event, so it stands to reason he likes Penwith’s chances on Saturday and wants to see how she handles the Santa Anita surface.
The Godolphin Racing homebred daughter of Bernardini is out of the Touch Gold mare Composure, a California fan favorite a decade ago who spent her entire career based at Santa Anita and who won some of her more notable races over the California oval, including the 2002 Oak Leaf Stakes (GI). So, while Penwith will be making her Santa Anita debut, it may not feel like she’s a complete stranger to the locals thanks to her dam’s success. And a good year may very well earn Penwith a return trip to the Golden State for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November. Local jockey Mike Smith has accepted the call and the pair will break from post position three.
Stonestreet Stable’s Tara’s Tango won the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria (GII) last time out and, while she’s not terribly consistent, she has run some really good races over her nine-race career. She’s in the care of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and will have leading jockey Rafael Bejarano aboard for the first time while affixed with blinkers, also for the first time. The connections and equipment change alone may be worth an extended look before heading to the windows.
Trainer Dale Romans ships in last year’s Zia Park Oaks winner Lavender Chrissie for her first start of 2016. The West Point Thoroughbreds-owned filly by Scat Daddy is in tough, but has been working well so far this year at Gulfstream Park and gets the services of Victor Espinoza on Saturday.
Three other really good fillies will join the top three in the gate for the afternoon’s ninth race, which carries a post time of 7:30 p.m. EDT.