Multiple Grade 1 queen Bellafina could be the poster child for stay-at-home orders. Routinely better when emerging from her own stall than shipping out of town, the 4-5 favorite readily asserted her class in Sunday’s $101,000 Desert Stormer (G3) at her Santa Anita base. But the story of the day ended up being her regular rider, Flavien Prat, who racked up six wins on the card.
Prat was leading the jockey standings with 45 wins when Santa Anita went on the COVID-19 hiatus in late March, and the Frenchman has picked up where he left off. After adding two wins apiece on Friday’s reopening day and Saturday, Prat got off to a winning start in Sunday’s 1ST, a turf sprint, aboard the Peter Miller-trained Querelle (4-1).
Then he swept a Pick 3 comprising the 4TH through 6TH courtesy of Noor Khan (28-10) for Phil D’Amato in a dirt sprint, Bud Knight (14-10 favorite) for Leonard Powell over a grassy mile, and Collusion Illusion (27-10) for Mark Glatt in another dirt sprint. After Bellafina made it number five on the day, Prat visited the winner’s circle with Jack Carava’s Harper’s Gallop (3-1 favorite) in the 9TH, a turf mile.
That sixth win put him just one away from the Santa Anita record set by the legendary Laffit Pincay, who rode seven winners on March 14, 1987. Prat had one chance to tie the mark, but his mount in the nightcap, Winning Element (9-5 favorite), ironically couldn’t live up to his name in sixth.
Prat’s feat still ranks among the best in Santa Anita history, according to the track’s media guide. The great Bill Shoemaker notched a then-record six wins on Feb. 23, 1962. Pincay equaled it twice (1973 and 1981) before breaking it. Other jockeys reaching the six-win tally on a single day are Steve Valdez (an apprentice in 1973), Sandy Hawley (in both Feb. and March 1976), Darrel McHargue (1978 and 1979), Patrick Valenzuela (1988), Martin Pedroza (1992), Corey Nakatani (2000), and most recently Rafael Bejarano (2006).
Bellafina was the highlight. Despite being by Quality Road, the Simon Callaghan trainee doesn’t do herself justice on the road, as evidenced again by her fourth in the April 25 Carousel at Oaklawn Park. But she’s straightforward in Southern California.
Not so straightforward in the Desert Stormer, however, was Fighting Mad, who was ultimately disqualifed from third. First ducking in slightly when breaking from her rail post, she then veered out while striding forward. In the process, Fighting Mad sawed off her Bob Baffert stablemate, Mother Mother, who clipped heels and stumbled. Fortunately, Mother Mother stayed on her feet, and Mike Smith stayed in the saddle.
Bellafina was not involved in the miscue to her inside, and Prat had her parked in third observing the contentious pace. Fighting Mad vied with Artistic Diva through splits of :21.38 and :44.47, and her waywardness wasn’t quite done.
Entering the stretch, Fighting Mad lurched out and bumped Artistic Diva. The contact appeared to affect Fighting Mad more, as her hind end shifted out from under her, while Artistic Diva plugged on. Drayden Van Dyke corrected Fighting Mad, and she responded by digging in and putting away Artistic Diva.
But by that point, Bellafina was rolling with a well-timed move by Prat. Overtaking the longtime leaders by midstretch, she was in control when Hang a Star rallied for second. Bellafina had a length to spare in a final time of 1:09.85 for 6 furlongs.
Fighting Mad staved off Mother Mother for third by a head, with Artistic Diva another 1 1/4 lengths away in fifth, but the stewards rightly posted the inquiry sign.
Both of Fighting Mad’s incidents were reviewed. The stewards found her infraction at the start the more actionable matter, ruling that she cost Mother Mother a chance at a better placing. The second incident at the top of the stretch was not judged a material factor affecting Artistic Diva’s finish. Both decisions were unanimous, track announcer Frank Mirahmadi reported.
Accordingly, Fighting Mad was demoted to fourth, behind Mother Mother who was placed third, but Artistic Diva was unchanged in fifth. Tomlin and First Star concluded the order of finish after the scratch of Amuse.
Owned by Kaleem Shah in partnership with the Coolmore principals Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, Bellafina has compiled an overall record of 15-7-3-1, $1,512,975. The bay scored her first wins at Del Mar in the 2018 Sorrento (G2) and Del Mar Debutante (G1), but she’s become more identified with Santa Anita.
The Desert Stormer advanced her local mark to 7-5-2-0, reflecting wins in the 2018 Chandelier (G1) and last season’s Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Santa Ynez (G2), and Las Virgenes (G2). Her two placings here have come in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) and La Brea (G1). Contrast that with her five starts outside the state, her best result being a distant third in last summer’s Test (G1) at Saratoga.
Bellafina’s connections noted her love affair with the “Great Race Place.”
“It unfolded pretty much as we expected,” Callaghan said. “We had decent speed and Flavien had her in a great position to stalk and gave us a really good performance. It shows how much she loves Santa Anita and we’re glad to get her back in the winner’s circle.”
“This is pretty cool,” Prat said. “She broke well and she put me in a good spot and we had those two fillies as a target. At the quarter-pole, we angled out and she did the rest. It’s great to be back home with this filly, she loves it here.”