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Irish O’Brien Preview: Bella Vita Returns To Turf
Bella Vita winning the Spring Fever (Credit: Ernie Belmonte)

Irish O’Brien Preview: Bella Vita Returns To Turf

ARCADIA, CA – After making her last 2 starts on dirt, Kaleem Shah’s Bella Vita returns to turf for Saturday’s $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

The Irish O’Brien is a 6-furlong turf sprint restricted to California-bred fillies and mares. This year’s edition is the sixth event on an 8-race card and has a local post time of 3:18 PM.

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Here’s a look at the full field for the Irish O’Brien:

1. Nardini 10/1 – She makes her second straight start against Cal-breds and over this course and distance after finishing a late-running second in mid-January Sunshine Millions Filliy & Mare Turf Sprint Stakes. That was her first race after taking 2 1/2 months off but has never won away from Golden Gate Fields, so she’ll need to prove she can handle the tougher class of competition on the southern California circuit.

2. Bella Vita 3/1 – She returned from a 9-month break to whip Cal-breds in February’s 6-furlong Spring Fever Stakes over the local dirt while made the 1/5 heavy favorite. She began her career on turf, finishing second by a nose on debut before breaking her maiden by 5 1/4 lengths in a pair of local 5 1/2-furlong sprints, then nearly wired the 1-mile China Doll Stakes here against open company before finishing second in the 6-furlong Evening Jewel Stakes, her dirt debut.

3. Cassie Belle 12/1 – She needed 8 starts before breaking her maiden, a feat she accomplished going 5 1/2 furlongs over this course last October, but she stretched out and defeated allowance rivals routing against Cal-breds in late December. She tried dirt to no avail last time out, finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Spring Fever, but she should relish returning to turf; she has an 11-2-3-2 record on grass.

4. Sadie Bluegrass 4/1 – She steps up to the stakes ranks for the first time after wiring optional claimers in a mile-long route over Golden Gate’s synthetic main track, which came 1 start after nearly wiring the same class level in a local 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint. Expect her to run prominently early, though if she doesn’t help set the tempo, backers need not fear: she proved 3 starts back that she can win from off the pace.

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5. Pulpit Rider 6/1 – She cuts back considerably in distance while making her first start since finishing seventh in last September’s 1 1/8-mile John C. Mabee Stakes (G2) at Del Mar. She defeated Cal-breds 2 starts back in the mile-long Solana Beach Stakes (a field that included Grade 1 winner Mucho Unusual), but while trainer Mike Puype connects at 21% with runners returning from similar layoffs, he hits at just 8% in turf sprints; is this just a prep for longer?

6. Scarlet Heat 20/1 – Trainer Dan Blacker sheds the blinkers after she finished fourth in all 4 starts while sporting a hood, all against allowance or optional claiming Cal-breds. She cuts back to sprinting for the first time since her first 2 career starts (both local defeats), and while Blacker’s barn is 0 for his past 11 turf sprints, he’s won 2 of his last 4 when making similar equipment changes.

7. Sapphire Kid 5/1 – She unleashed a strong turn of foot in the stretch last time out to catch and beat a loose-on-the-lead 4/5 favorite over this course and distance for her second straight victory after an 11-month break from the races. She’s won 3 of 5 since trainer Steve Knapp claimed her for $20k in November 2019 and Tiago Pereira remains the only rider the barn chooses to ride her in the afternoon.

8. Leggs Galore 2/1 – The red-hot favorite rides a 4-race win streak (all in turf sprints) that culminated in a strong 3 1/4-length score in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint last time out, her first start in 3 months. Ricky Gonzalez rides for the fourth straight time and should be perfectly positioned to press (or outright take) the early lead: of her 4 career wins, 3 were in gate to wire fashion.

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