The Aidan O’Brien-trained Santa Barbara brought Group 1 form into Saturday’s $700,000 Belmont Oaks (G1), but she didn’t get to flaunt it until deep stretch. Bottled up in traffic behind slow fractions on a rain-affected course, the 1.15-1 favorite burst through in time to snatch her first stakes win. She served as the opening act of a double-header, with stablemate Bolshoi Ballet completing the sweep two races later in the $1 million Belmont Derby (G1).
A half-sister to Breeders’ Cup stars Iridessa and Order of Australia, Santa Barbara is now the third Grade 1 winner out of the Danehill mare Senta’s Dream. She’s an O’Brien family production, bred by Aidan and Annemarie’s Whisperview Trading in Ireland.
Santa Barbara has been highly regarded since her debut victory at the Curragh last season, prompting an ambitious program this term. Sent straight to the 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket on May 2, she was a respectable fourth as the co-favorite. Santa Barbara was favored to move forward in the June 4 Oaks (G1) at Epsom, but she could do no better than fifth behind stunning stablemate Snowfall on softish going.
The cutback to 1 1/4 miles in the June 27 Pretty Polly S. (G1), on good-to-firm ground at the Curragh, nearly produced a breakthrough. Santa Barbara went down by only a neck to the classy four-year-old Thundering Nights, and she put it all together at Belmont Park.
Jockey Ryan Moore nestled the favorite in fifth, just a couple of lengths off the pace. Up front, Con Lima was in her element through splits of :24.71, :51.31, 1:16.40, and 1:40.76 on the good inner turf.
Although Santa Barbara was in ready striking range, the problem was the New York traffic. She was still strung up in the pocket in midstretch, when Moore had to drop back and steer out a bit to get a split. Meanwhile, Con Lima was staying on purposefully in the lead, and Higher Truth was rallying from her ground-saving position.
Then suddenly swooped Santa Barbara to collar them both by a decisive half-length. The daughter of Camelot, who also sired O’Brien’s 2018 Belmont Oaks winner Athena, completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.76. According to Trakus, Santa Barbara reeled off her final quarter in a brisk :22.65, despite the fact she didn’t deploy her maximum turbo until deep in the stretch.
Con Lima saved second by a nose from Higher Truth, an Irish-bred by the great Galileo, who was euthanized earlier Saturday. The Coolmore patriarch would achieve his first posthumous Grade 1 win with Bolshoi Ballet in the ensuing Derby.
Gam’s Mission reported home another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth, followed by deep closer Plum Ali. English shipper Nazuna, forwardly placed early, tired late to sixth. French import Cirona was a non-threatening seventh after breaking slowly, and she’ll have a chance to rebound after switching to trainer Chad Brown. Spanish Loveaffair, who chased Con Lima for the first mile, wound up last of the eight.
“It was quite a steadily run race,” Moore told NYRA publicity. “They lined up and I was hoping Nazuna would drop away a bit sooner. I didn’t want to waste too much petrol by going around her. She got class. She’s got ability. She won without me moving a muscle.
“I had to go out one switch (path) and I didn’t want to, but I had to. We’re lucky we got out in time. She done it very easily. I’m very happy with her.”
Assistant T.J. Comerford commented that the ground wasn’t ideal for Santa Barbara.
“She’s been used to faster ground, so it probably took her a while to pick things up today on that slow ground,” Comerford said. “That was a good performance for her. Ryan knows her better than anyone and he knew that she had plenty of speed, so it was never a problem. She showed plenty of turn of foot in her other Group 1 starts in the Oaks and at the Curragh, she got beat by a good older filly (Thundering Nights). She’s getting better as she gets on. Anytime you win a Group 1 is great.”
Campaigned by Coolmore’s Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Tabor in partnership with Westerberg, Santa Barbara improved her scorecard to 5-2-1-0, $491,642. With her seasoning now catching up to her natural talent, the bay promises to be a major presence in the division.
The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) would be a logical end-of-season target, especially since half-sister Iridessa won the 2019 edition at Santa Anita, and second dam Starine scored in the 2002 running at Arlington. Santa Barbara and Iridessa’s half-brother Order of Australia was the surprise package in last year’s Mile (G1), prevailing at 73-1 at Keeneland.
In the meantime, New York’s turf series for sophomore fillies continues with the Aug. 8 Saratoga Oaks (G3) and Sept. 18 Jockey Club Oaks back at Belmont. Will Santa Barbara return, or deputize other Ballydoyle representatives as she pursues European prizes?