Making her stakes debut after breaking her maiden going 5 1/2 furlongs last month, Martin Wygod and Herman Sarkowsky’s Paradise Woods absolutely demolished her 3-year-old filly rivals in Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita Park. Ridden by Flavien Prat, the Richard Mandella-trained daughter of Union Rags went to the front at the start and was never challenged, drawing off to win by 11 3/4 lengths.
Paradise Woods covered 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.53 after setting fractions of :23.46, :47.35, 1:11.48 and 1:36.07. The 11 3/4-length margin of victory was the largest in the race’s history, eclipsing the 10 1/2-length margin of Silver Spoon under Ray York in 1959.
Runner-up in the Oaks was G1 Hollywood Starlet winner Abel Tasman, the 4-5 favorite who was coming off a second-place finish in the G3 Santa Isabel to Unique Bella, the division leader until being sidelined. It Tiz Well finished third, with Mopotism fourth in the field of seven.
“I’ve always been high on her,” said Prat, who was winning his first Santa Anita Oaks. “From the first time I worked her, I said, ‘That one is really good.’ She ran well her first time out (second in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Jan. 26) but I was expecting so much more that I was almost disappointed. But I think that I was just expecting too much from her.
“The next time out, she won like a good filly. She’s so smart. If you teach her something she remembers it the next day; it sticks. She’s super small, she’s fast and she has stamina. She’s so good. I learned she can make the distance, no problem. It’s an honor to rider her, truly. Down the backside it was all her, I didn’t do anything. I just let her have her way.”
Paradise Woods, out of the Forest Wildcat mare Wild Forest, was bred in Kentucky by Herman Sarkowsky. She didn’t debut until Jan. 26 when second in a six furlong maiden race She broke her maiden by 4 1/4 lengths but was sent off as an 8-1 outsider against more seasoned competition in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Paradise Woods broke smoothly and went right to the front under some pressure from Princess Karen. Abel Tasman, making her first start for Bob Baffert after being moved out of Simon Callaghan’s barn, was well back in the early going under Mike Smith. Paradise Woods led comfortably throughout and when Prat moved his hands on the filly at the top of the stretch she drew away with a sudden burst of speed. Prat wrapped up in the final sixteenth, the victory well in hand.
“She looked like she was just cruising out there,” said Mandella, winning his third Santa Anita Oaks and his first since multiple champion Beholder in 2013. “At the half mile pole, she was going easy. She took my breath away. It means a lot to win for (Herman) Sarkowsky. He was an owner with me for 38 years.
“I have always been high on her. I wasn’t that confident, but I fully expected her to run well. I didn’t think she would do this.
“I was thinking of running her short tomorrow in the Santa Paula, but when Unique Bella scratched, I thought we should take a shot. I thought she was as good as these fillies and she showed it today. She is a young filly. She has only had three starts, so we’ll see about the Kentucky Oaks and how things develop.She was really nasty to saddle today, but she ran great.”
Baffert said of Abel Tasman: “She was back there, and you have to be up close to the lead. I think Mike Smith got a feel for her today. Now I’ve got a race into her, and I know what I need to do to sharpen her up. She’ll move forward off that – still the Kentucky Oaks.”
“You know, Mandella’s horse really just blew the field away,” said Smith.”She just broke, they call it ‘speed poppin’ the field’ sometimes. She broke and was gone. I made sure we got second. There was no catching the winner. And that was good enough for today. We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board, make a couple of changes, tweak this and tweak that a little and see if we can turn the page in the Kentucky Oaks. Today, it was all Mandella.”
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