In a battle between prominent players in the Southern California three-year-old fillies division, Eda sprang a mild surprise in Sunday’s $101,500 Santa Ysabel S. (G3) at Santa Anita, holding off stablemate Under the Stars in a driving finish.
Eda was among the stars of the circuit as a juvenile; the Bob Baffert trainee ended 2021 with consecutive victories in the Anoakia S., Desi Arnaz S., and Starlet S. (G1). The latter triumph came in hard-fought fashion over 1 1/16 miles (the same distance as the Santa Ysabel), which may have given bettors cause for pause when analyzing Eda’s Santa Ysabel chances.
Instead, bettors flocked to support Baffert’s Under the Stars, who was stretching out in distance off a victory in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez S. (G2) two months ago. In an eight-horse field, Under the Stars closed as the even-money favorite, with Eda the 33-10 co-second choice alongside 2021 Chandelier S. (G2) heroine Ain’t Easy.
When the gates opened, Eda broke alertly under jockey Juan Hernandez and quickly dashed to the front, leading by a length through controlled splits of :23.62, :48.05, and 1:12.48. Under the Stars overcome a slow start to settle in second place, while Ain’t Easy saved ground a head behind in third position.
“(Eda) was traveling really good,” Hernandez told Santa Anita. “She was comfortable the whole race. She broke really sharp today and I got a good position. I was outside and when she broke like that, I just came to the rail and just let her run.”
The positions remained unchanged until the homestretch, when Eda edged away to a two-length lead and Ain’t Easy advanced along the inside to gain second place. Under the Stars belatedly got back on track and unleashed a game rally in the final furlong, but Eda was resilient and dug deep to win by half a length in 1:44.31.
“I asked her around the quarter pole when I felt the inside horse and the outside horse (closing in), I told her it was time to go and she picked it up pretty good,” Hernandez continued.
Ain’t Easy faded late to finish 3 3/4 lengths behind Under the Stars, but safely held third place over Desert Dawn. Fortunata Tensio, Miss Everything, Cairo Memories, and Classical Romance trailed the field.
Long-term plans for Eda and Under the Stars are up in the air. The Santa Ysabel is a Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier awarding Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualification points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis, but since Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc., Eda and Under the Stars are ineligible to earn points. Neither has been nominated to the Kentucky Oaks, but in the short-term, Baffert indicated at least one could contest the April 9 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita.