March 30, 2023

Justique stretches out versus Starlet top three in Las Virgenes

Justique and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar (Photo © Benoit Photo)

Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifying points will be up for grabs early on Saturday’s card at Santa Anita when the $200,000 Las Virgenes (G3) will be contested over one mile.

Although points of 20-8-6-4-2 will be awarded to the first five finishers, the likely favorite, the Bob Baffert-trained Faiza, is currently ineligible to accrue points due to Baffert’s suspension from racing at Churchill Downs.

Unbeaten in two starts, Faiza prevailed by only a head as the 1-2 favorite in her last start, the Dec. 10 Starlet (G1) at Los Alamitos. The Las Virgenes serves as a rematch between Faiza and Starlet runner-up Pride of the Nile, while Starlet bronze medalist Uncontrollable looks to close the five plus-length gap between herself and the top two.

Many eyes in the Las Virgenes will also be on Justique. The Justify filly opened her account with an eye-catching, come-from-behind debut score at Del Mar last July, and though she could only finish a distant third in the Chandelier (G2) next out, Justique rebounded to take the Desi Arnaz S. over seven furlongs at Del Mar on Nov. 19.

The field is rounded out by Broadway Girls, upset winner of the Blue Norther S. on turf Dec. 30, and Sweet Trouble, a maiden who’s placed in both prior starts.

Later in the program, a field of eight older horses will contest the $200,000 San Pasqual (G2) over 1 1/8 miles.

Returning from an extended layoff is the Baffert-trained Hopper, who landed the Affirmed (G3) last June by more than five lengths when under the care of Sean McCarthy. The son of Declaration of War has won two of three lifetime starts.

Also among the filed is former Baffert trainee Newgrange. The multiple Grade 3 winner was most recently third in the Nov. 27 Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar for Phil D’Amato.