Challenged from the opening bell, Argentine-bred Vale Dori repelled a serious challenge from Finest City to take Saturday’s Grade I, $ 400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes by 1 ½ lengths under Rafael Bejarano.Trained by Bob Baffert, Vale Dori made every pole a winning one as she got a mile and one eighth in 1:48.81.
Breaking from post position two in a field of eight older fillies and mares, Vale Dori had a neck on Finest City a half mile from home and finally shook loose approaching the sixteenth pole.
“Today was the first time I think that she was pressured almost the whole race,” said Bejarano. “She showed me a lot of power, a lot of heart.I don’t think she minds coming from behind, but having a clean break, I just took it from there.”
A winner of five straight races, the last four graded stakes, Vale Dori, a 5-year-old mare who was a Group I winner in her native Argentina at age three, was off as the 6-5 favorite and paid $ 4.60, $ 2.60 and $ 2.60.
Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, she is now 13-8-3-1 and with the winner’s share of $ 240,000, she increased her earnings to $ 934,943.
Finest City, America’s reigning Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter, who finished some 9 ½ lengths clear of Autumn Flower, was stretching out off a big win here in the Grade II, seven furlong Santa Monica Stakes on Jan. 21, which followed her signature moment in winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two starts back on Nov. 5.
“She ran great,” said Baze, who was aboard for the first time as regular rider Mike Smith was out of town to ride at Oaklawn Park.“This is probably a little too far for her but she ran really well.I give the winner credit, she’d never been headed before and we were head and head the whole way.”
The second choice at 8-5, Finest City paid $ 3.00 and $ 2.80.
“My filly ran her eyeballs out,” said Kruljac.“Running second in a Grade I isn’t all bad.I’m happy with how she ran.”
Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Autumn Flower held off Lady Tapit by a head for third money.The longest shot in the field at 59-1, Autumn Flower paid $ 10.20 to show.
Fractions on the race were 23.50, 48.23, 1:12.21 and 1:36.37.
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