The main storylines going into Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Maria (G2) revolved around 3-5 favorite Ce Ce and the 5-2 Hard Not to Love, but both were upstaged by front-running Fighting Mad at Santa Anita. A 10-1 overlay, the Bob Baffert trainee capitalized on her speed with new rider Abel Cedillo.
Fighting Mad was gaining compensation after being disqualified from third to fourth in her seasonal reappearance in the May 17 Desert Stormer (G3). That sprint set up the Gary and Mary West homebred to stretch back out here. Bettors who remembered how Fighting Mad crushed the Torrey Pines (G3) in her 2019 finale might have reaped the rewards, if trusting that she could pull such a coup at the expense of better foes.
Quick into stride, Fighting Mad threw down the gauntlet from the start and found no early challengers. Hard Not to Love, who’d led early in the Beholder Mile (G1) before succumbing to Ce Ce, wasn’t as alert at the break. The one-eyed filly had held up proceedings as she had to be humored and cajoled to make it to the gate, while the others circled patiently. Hard Not to Love was thereby loaded first, and stood in post 1 until her four foes were locked away. It didn’t take that long, but perhaps the entire ordeal left her less sharp when the latch was sprung, and she took a bobble.
Fighting Mad, sharp through splits of :23.25 and :46.49, increased her advantage at every call. The 9-2 Horologist and 33-1 longshot Kaydetre gave chase until each could no longer hold their positions. Kaydetre retreated first, but Horologist dropped back as though something were amiss. Losing her action on the far turn, she was pulled up in the lane.
Although Ce Ce had advanced from fourth to become her nearest pursuer, Fighting Mad was still going great guns. She rolled past the 6-furlong mark in 1:10.09 and continued to hold sway down the stretch. Hard Not to Love closed from last in the small field, enough to overtake Ce Ce but not enough to threaten the winner.
Fighting Mad crossed the wire 3 1/4 lengths in front, negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.12, and sparked a $22.20 win mutuel.
Hard Not to Love reversed the Beholder Mile form with Ce Ce, leaving the odds-on choice another 2 1/4 lengths astern. Ce Ce’s three-race winning spree was halted in a flat third, and Kayedetre trudged in a distant fourth. The non-finishing Horologist walked off.
Fighting Mad’s career resume reads 7-4-1-0, $294,008, but she’s now 2-for-2 over a route, both in graded stakes. Successful in her sole outing as a juvenile at Del Mar in August 2018, the bay resurfaced with a second-level allowance tally at Churchill Downs during Derby Week 2019. Her stakes debut in the Miss Preakness (G3) didn’t go according to plan, as Fighting Mad faded to a remote seventh behind champion Covfefe.
Fighting Mad returned to Del Mar to finish second in another sprint, then broke through in style in her two-turn audition in the Torrey Pines. A similar pattern was in play here, moving forward from her wayward Desert Stormer effort to dominate.
“She needed her last race and she had trained well coming into this,” Baffert said. “We’ve always been high on her and today, I told the jock to put her on the lead, that’s where she wants to be.
“She can be a little headstrong, but I could see turning for home, I knew she was gonna be tough to beat. Today, she ran like she did at Del Mar. That’s a really good time (1:42.12) on this track.”
Aside from taking the trainer’s instruction, the hot-riding Cedillo had done his replay homework on Fighting Mad.
“When she broke, she broke like a rocket, so I was just trying to slow her down,” Cedillo said. “I know I went a little fast, but she did it on her own. The first race I watched was a ride by Joe Talamo (the Torrey Pines). She was doing the same thing, he didn’t budge (on) her and she won by eight. In her other race (last summer, her runner-up in a sprint allowance) she was looking around, which she did today, but in the stretch, she just did it easy.”
By New Year’s Day – like the same connections’ Maximum Security – the 4-year-old is out of the Forestry mare Smokey’s Love, who is a half to stakes scorer Monsoon Rain and Grade 3-placed The Visualiser. Fighting Mad’s second dam, Smokey Mirage, is a full sister to multiple Dubai Group 3 hero Estimraar and a half to 2005 Florida Derby (G1) victor High Fly.