July 16, 2024

Faiza romps in Santa Anita Oaks; Offlee Naughty upsets Charles Whittingham

Faiza romped in the Santa Anita Oaks (Photo by Benoit Photo)

The undefeated Faiza delivered the best performance of her accomplished career in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita, drawing off down the homestretch to trounce her pursuers by 6 1/2 lengths.

The Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Girvin is now 5-for-5, having followed a maiden special weight score with victories in the Starlet (G1), Las Virgenes (G3), and Santa Ysabel (G3). Those graded wins came by margins of a head, half a length, and 2 1/4 lengths, so the Santa Anita Oaks marked a noteworthy step in a dominant direction.

Faiza normally tracks the pace, but in the Santa Anita Oaks she employed a slightly different strategy. Jockey Flavien Prat reserved Faiza in fourth position early in the 1 1/16-mile contest as 91-1 longshot Gila sprinted to a daylight lead through quick fractions of :22.49 and :46.01.

Gila gave way after half a mile, allowing the pace-tracking Clearly Unhinged to take over the lead through six furlongs in 1:11.25. But Faiza was in full flight by that juncture and seized a three-length advantage in midstretch before extending her lead to the finish line, which she reached in 1:43.27.

“She keeps improving race after race,” Prat told Santa Anita. “Baffert and I felt she was going to have a good run today, and she absolutely did! She jumped well out of the gate and got into a good position, and from there got the job done.”

Last year’s Del Mar Debutante (G1) winner And Tell Me Nolies rallied from sixth place to finish second, the same position she occupied in the Santa Ysabel. Window Shopping, Clearly Unhinged, Venganza, Don’t Get Pickled, Cliquish, and Gila trailed the field.

“She was really feeling it today. I could tell, she’s been really quiet and today she was on her toes,” said Baffert. “She was coming into the race perfectly. The track today is fast and they are just bouncing over it. I worked her on this kind of track and it was probably one of her best works ever. She’s getting better and better and improving. Prat has always told me she does just enough to get by, I told him she would do more today. I’ve never seen her so sharp.

Bred by Brereton C. Jones and owned by Michael Lund Petersen, Faiza has accumulated $642,000 in earnings. But since Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. in the 2023, Faiza was ineligible to earn the 100 Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualification points up for grabs by the Santa Anita Oaks winner, leaving And Tell Mo Nolies (40 points), Window Shopping (30 points), Clearly Unhinged (20 points), and Venganza (10 points) to divvy up the remaining points.

About half an hour prior to the Santa Anita Oaks, Elm Drive prevailed in an off-the-turf renewal of the 6 1/2-furlong Monrovia S., which was tentatively downgraded from Grade 3 status due to the surface switch. That suited Elm Drive just fine; her past main-track exploits include wins in the 2021 Sorrento (G2) and 2022 Angels Flight S. on the Southern California circuit.

Elm Drive hadn’t raced since finishing sixth in the Weather Vane S. at Pimlico last fall, but she shrugged off the layoff, pressed and set quick fractions of :21.96 and :44.42, and then held on down the Monrovia homestretch to beat Big Summer by three-quarters of a length, Kirstenbosch, Awake at Midnyte, Canoodling, Freedom Flyer, and Leggs Galore in 1:15.56. Ramon Vazquez rode the winner for trainer Phil D’Amato.

Also on the Saturday card, Offlee Naughty sprang an 11-1 upset in the Charles Whittingham (G2). Previously the winner in track-record time of a 1 1/4-mile allowance optional claimer on Tapeta at Turfway Park, Offlee Naughty had no trouble handling the same distance on turf at Santa Anita, rating in last place behind slow splits of :25.20 and :50.63 before accelerating strongly down the homestretch to win by one length in 2:02.45.

Dicey Mo Chara led for most of the journey before settling for second place, followed by Opry, Gold Phoenix, and Masteroffoxhounds. Midnight Jostar slipped and fell in the stretch, but walked off, according to the chart. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez guided the winner on behalf of trainer Michael McCarthy.