By Margaret Ransom
Southern California racing fans and handicappers will get their first look at a good bunch of fillies whose connections hope will make steady progress toward this year’s Kentucky Oaks (GI) in Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park. This year, five will head to the gate for the seven-furlong, main-track test, including Kaleem Shah’s likely juvenile filly Eclipse Award finalist Bellafina.
The rainy weather from Friday and Saturday night is expected to dry out by Sunday, so expect a fast track and mostly sunny skies with highs reaching about 60. The winner of the Santa Ynez will earn 10 Kentucky Oaks points, while the runner-up will be rewarded with four, with two for third and one for fourth.
Since its first running in 1952, some of the most well-known fillies and legends of the division have won the Santa Ynez, including Turkish Trousers, Susan’s Girl, Terlingua, Very Subtle, Serena’s Song and Indian Blessing. Two years ago, champion and fan favorite Unique Bella emerged victorious, while dual Grade 1 winner Midnight Bisou, who will also likely pick up a 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award finalist honor in a couple weeks, was in the winner’s circle a year ago.
This year, Bellafina is the standout and the two-time Grade 1 winner returns off a troubled and disappointing fourth as the 9-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI). She had a bad break that day, but was also suffering from the side effects of puberty during her days at Churchill Downs for the World Championships, as her trainer Simon Callaghan noted that she was “in heat” all week.
Now, back at her home base, she’s been training exceptionally well and has grown up a lot, looking more like a maturing 3-year-old than a large, gangly juvenile. The $800,000 daughter of Quality Road is probably bred for more distance, but won the Del Mar Debutante (GI) at seven furlongs, so she’s certainly capable. And she’s rate-able, which is helpful for regular jockey Flavien Prat depending on how the pace sets up. She’ll be a short price, but she’s also going to be tough to beat.
Bolton, Lipman, Mathiesen, et. al’s Mother Mother broke her maiden at Del Mar in July in spectacular fashion, cruising to win by 6 ½ lengths in nearly wire-to-wire fashion under Drayden Van Dyke. She returned for a second in the Del Mar Debutante, but skipped the Breeders’ Cup in favor of a stakes on the undercard that day — the Rags to Riches Stakes — which she won nicely from gate to wire, before logging a close third in the Los Alamitos Starlet (GI) last month. It’s a good thing she has a ton of early speed, as she’ll need it breaking from the inside, which is notoriously difficult at the distance at Santa Anita. Her trainer, Bob Baffert, has won this race four times previously, so she could be his record-tying fifth. And if she gets in front cleanly, she will be tough to run down under Van Dyke, who hasn’t been back aboard since her maiden win.
Three-time winner Doug O’Neill sends out maiden winner Sold It off her somewhat mediocre fifth in the Los Al Starlet last out. The daughter of The Factor always trains well, but one has to wonder if distance may be her issue. She seems to be a need-the-lead type, so she’ll surely be up on the engine. But will she be effective in surviving both a speed duel with perhaps more talented horses and the closing kicks of others?
The consistent Tomlin (5-3-0-1) ships in off a couple of nice wins over the all-weather at Golden Gate, plus one over Santa Rosa’s main dirt track. She’s a $200,000 daughter of Distorted Humor and certainly bred to like at least the distance, if not farther, and has been working well for this Southern California debut.
Aside from a decent second in Keeneland’s Alcibiades Stakes (GI) in October, Reflect hasn’t done much since breaking her maiden over this track back in June. In her last two, she was beaten by a combined 80 lengths, so she clearly has to improve a lot to be a factor here.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.