ARCADIA, CA – Trainer John Shirreffs’ one-eyed wonder Hard Not to Love made it two straight graded triumphs on Saturday when she crushed her competition in the $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
Breaking from post 4 under Mike Smith as the 3/5 favorite in the compact field of five, Hard Not to Love was content to let her competition speed away while she settled into stride near the rear. Up front, Lady Ninja dueled on the outside of Road Rager through opening fractions of :23.04 and :45.81.
Ranging up four-wide in the far turn, Hard Not to Love made a swift move at the top of the stretch to take command, then inched away steadily in the stretch. Hand-ridden as her strides distanced her from her opponents, Hard Not to Love crossed 3 1/2 lengths much the best in a final time of 1:22.19 for the 7-furlong sprint over the fast main track.
“She got into a really good rhythm once we passed over the gap at about the 3/4 pole,” Smith said. “She kind of put her head down and got into a really nice rhythm. I knew she was gonna run well at that point. I gotta take my hat off to John Shirreffs and everybody, the groom and the gallop girl that gets on her. She is a lot of work and they have done a lot to get her here and it is paying off.”
Mother Mother took second, 1 1/2 lengths over Zusha, while Lady Ninja and Road Rager weakened to fourth and fifth, respectively, to complete the order of finish.
Hard Not to Love’s win was her third straight, having taken a local allowance score in October before upsetting the La Brea Stakes (G1) here on December 28. The 4-year-old daughter of Hard Spun improved her record to 6-5-0-1 with $408,480 earned for co-owners Mercedes Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Dorothy and David Ingordo, and Steve Mooney.
“She’s getting better and better,” Shirreffs said. “She’s getting into those repeat performances. The stewards allowed us to break from the post parade when she came out of the tunnel. Her groom, Martin Lopez, walked her around the (clubhouse) turn and she stayed calm. She never breaks, but she reacts very quickly. Mike said he was waiting for her to relax and then he put her into the race.
“I love Mike. We go back a long way and we think a lot alike. He’s such a horseman; for him, it’s all about the horse. That’s above winning or losing, it’s always about the horse. It looked like this was her best race.”
Hard Not to Love returned $3.20 to win, $2.10 to place, and $2.10 to show. Mother Mother brought back $2.20 to place and $2.10 to show, while Zusha paid $2.80 to show.