Beautiful Gift needed every last inch of Santa Anita’s 900-foot homestretch to prevail in Sunday’s $98,000 Santa Ysabel S. (G3). It wasn’t until the very last stride that the improving filly managed to thrust her head in front, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Unraced since winning a one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita last October, Beautiful Gift was one of three Bob Baffert trainees entered in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep race. Beautiful Gift was joined in the starting gate by stablemates Heels Up and Kalypso, with the latter favorited at 7-10 after finishing second in Santa Anita’s one-mile Las Virgenes (G3). The only starter not conditioned by Baffert was Michael McCarthy’s Moraz, the second betting choice based off a third-place effort in the Las Virgenes.
But the Santa Ysabel did not unfold as bettors anticipated. Kalypso was quick into stride as always, using her speed to carve out fractions of :23.95, :48.13, and 1:12.69 while closely pursued by Moraz. Beautiful Gift was content to save ground in third place under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, with the slow-starting Heels Up dropping back to last place.
The field began to bunch up around the far turn, with just 1 1/2 lengths separating the four fillies at the five-sixteenths pole. At that juncture, Kalypso was under pressure from jockey Joel Rosario, and Moraz appeared poised to pounce under confident handling from Umberto Rispoli, introducing the possibility that the Baffert threesome would be denied by their lone challenge.
Beautiful Gift had to steady briefly when Moraz pushed Kalypso closer to the rail, but once Velazquez steered Beautiful Gift out from behind the pacesetters, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro slowly but surely lengthened her stride. Though she trailed Moraz by three lengths at the eighth pole, Beautiful Gift never lost focus, gaining ground faster and faster with every stride until she flashed across the finish line in front by a head in 1:44.83.
“I had to steady a little at the quarter pole, and it took me a little more time to get her to the outside,” Velazquez told Santa Anita. “She was full of run, and I was trying to keep her from getting dirt in her face, but when (Umberto) Rispoli pushed Joel (Rosario) in, I had to take a hold of her. But she was able to overcome it. By the time I got her to the outside, I got her rolling and I was hoping she would get there before the wire and she did.”
Whereas Beautiful Gift enjoyed the opportunity to race 1 1/16 miles, the other Baffert trainees showed signs of distance limitations. Kalypso weakened to finish third by 2 3/4 lengths, while Heels Up was eased down the stretch to trail by a wide margin.
“Well (for) Kalypso, the distance has always been a little suspect,” said Baffert of the two-time stakes-winning sprinter. “Heels Up really can’t go that far, we’re going to keep her one turn.”
Beautiful Gift was bred in Kentucky by her owner, Baoma Corp. Produced by the A.P. Indy mare Sea Gift, Beautiful Gift boasts a pedigree packed from top to bottom with stamina. Her half-brother Chitu won the 2014 Sunland Derby (G3) over 1 1/8 miles, and Beautiful Gift figures to relish racing the same distance in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
By virtue of winning the Santa Ysabel, Beautiful Gift’s spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate may already be secure. In addition to earning $60,000 (boosting her career tally to $99,600 from a 3-2-0-1 record), Beautiful Gift picked up 50 Kentucky Oaks qualification points, sufficient to rank fifth on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.
Eight Kentucky Oaks prep races remain to be run, with the April 3 Santa Anita Oaks (G2)—held over the same track and distance as the Santa Ysabel—looming as the next logical target for Beautiful Gift.