Saturday’s $401,035 Santa Margarita Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park was billed as a two-horse race between Vale Dori and Finest City, and the duo did not disappoint.
Hooking up from the start, Vale Dori held a short head advantage on Finest City through the opening six furlongs in :23.50, :48.23 and 1:12.21. Turning into the stretch, however, jockey Rafael Bejarano gave Vale Dori her cue and the Asiatic Boy mare began inching away, eventually finishing 1 1/2 lengths in front of her rival while completing nine furlongs in 1:48.81 over the fast main track.
Vale Dori was backed as the 6-5 favorite and paid $4.60 for the win, which boosted her earnings to $934,943 and improved her career line to 13-8-3-1.
Finest City, honored as the 2016 champion female sprinter after taking the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last November, entered this route contest off a 3 3/4-length victory in the seven-furlong Santa Monica Stakes (G2) on January 21. The five-year-old City Zip mare reputed herself well in second as the 8-5 second choice.
It was another 9 1/2 lengths back to third-place runner and 59-1 longshot Autumn Flower, who was followed under the wire by Lady Tapit, Estrechada, Wild at Heart, Perfect Pic and Show Stealer.
Trained by Bob Baffert for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, Vale Dori extended her current win streak to five straight. The five-year-old bay, a Group 1 winner in her native Argentina, began her winning ways following a third in last year’s Zenyatta Stakes (G1), and actually captured the Tranquility Lake Stakes prior to that race.
After the Zenyatta, Vale Dori scored in an allowance/optional claimer, then closed out 2016 with a three-length win in the Bayakoa Handicap (G2) at Del Mar. She began 2017 by wiring the La Canada Stakes (G2) back at Santa Anita on January 14 and stayed at the Arcadia, California, venue to triumph in the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) last out on February 11.
Vale Dori also shows a runner-up effort in the 2016 U.A.E. Oaks (UAE-G3) and a close fourth in last year’s U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) on her resume. Bred by Abolengo, she is out of the Halo Sunshine mare Valerina and comes from a black-type rich Argentinean female line.
SANTA MARGARITA QUOTES
Rafael Bejarano, jockey Vale Dori, winner
“She was definitely ready today. I knew Finest City would be tough but I was only thinking about the break. (Vale Dori) was more focused today, more consistent. She broke beautifully from the gate.
“When I saw that Finest City didn’t want to go to the lead, I just took control of the race and took it from there.
“She was really focused today and she showed me a big kick in the stretch. She was tough.
“Today was the first time I think that she was pressured almost the whole race. 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.
“I thought that from the first jump Finest City would be fast and would be on the lead. When I saw that she didn’t really want to go and didn’t relax into the first turn, I just took control and took advantage of (Vale Dori’s) speed. I just tried to relax my horse.
“These are two nice horses but since I had the lead, I had the advantage.
“The last time I worked her, about a week ago, she worked really good, galloped out well. I knew she would be really good today but the only thing was the break. Last time she had a bad experience so we just wanted her to relax and I didn’t play with her too much in the gate.”
Tyler Baze, jockey Finest City, second
“She ran great. This is probably just 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.”
Ian Kruljac, trainer Finest City, second
“My filly ran her eyeballs out. Running second in a Grade 1 isn’t all bad. I’m happy with how she ran.”