By Margaret Ransom
The road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) continues this weekend, with five California-based fillies set to race a mile in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.
Venetian Harbor comes into the race off a 10 ¾-length maiden win on Dec. 29 for trainer Richard Baltas. The 3-year-old filly is the heavy 2-5 favorite and will be ridden by Flavien Prat.
The Las Virgenes is the fifth race on the card with a post time of 2:30 p.m. PT. The race offers Oaks qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the first four finishers.
Since first run in 1983, the race has drawn some of the best fillies in the West that wound up in the Oaks on May 1 at Churchill Downs and as champions. The Las Virgenes also serves as a prep for the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) in early April, and has drawn winning performances from 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, Unique Bella, and Bellafina a year ago. The race is named for a park preserve in Los Angeles county encompassing nearly 700 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains adjacent to the popular Malibu Creek State Park. The park has several hiking trails, the most significant being Las Virgenes View Trail through grasslands and oak woodlands near Las Virgenes Road in the far north San Fernando valley and then up a canyon to a ridge for a 360-degree view of the Santa Monicas.
Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have each sent out five winners. Baffert trains two of the five fillies in Saturday’s race, Gingham and Stellar Sound.
Retired jockeys Corey Nakatani and Gary Stevens each rode four winners throughout their exceptional careers. One is in the Hall of Fame, the other is sure to make it in the future. The Las Virgenes field, with jockeys, trainers, odds and pedigree:
|1||Go Big Blue Nation||Rafael Bejarano||Mike McCarthy||10-1||Animal Kingdom-Chelsea Road, by Speightstown|
|2||Gingham||Drayden Van Dyke||Bob Baffert||6-1||Quality Road—Chapel, by Pulpit|
|3||Cholula Lips||Abel Cedillo||Mike Harrington||5-1||Empire Way-Sweet Lips Pooh, Rio Verde|
|4||Venetian Harbor||Flavien Prat||Richard Baltas||2-5||Munnings-Sounds of the City, by Street Cry|
|5||Stellar Sound||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||5-1||Tapit-Siren Serenade, by Unbridled’s Song|
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.