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La Force Seals Big Score in Santa Maria

La Force Seals Big Score in Santa Maria

ARCADIA, CA – A stumbling rival and a lack of Unique Bella’s presence made the difference for La Force to seal her first big score in Saturday’s $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

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Breaking from the far outside post 5 under Drayden Van Dyke as the 5/1 second choice, La Force was given an immediate gift because the 1/5 favorite Paradise Woods stumbled and fell behind early, forcing her to sit off the pace rather than on it. Van Dyke kept La Force in the clear running three-wide and within striking distance of the leaders. Up front, Just a Smidge posted opening fractions of :24.21, :48.51, and 1:13.32 while Exuberance applied

Still within a few lengths of the front as she rounded the far turn, La Force tipped out to run four-wide in the stretch and soon gained the lead. Drifting in slightly throughout the stretch run didn’t do enough to hinder La Force’s performance, as Paradise Woods could not gain ground quickly enough. The Patrick Gallagher-trained La Force crossed with a 1 1/4-length advantage in a final time of 1:45.91 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the fast main track.

“Paradise Woods stumbling at the start really didn’t change anything for me,” Van Dyke said. “I had a great outside post and she tends to like being in the clear. She’s just an honest, trying filly; she’s very, very classy. She ran second to Unique Bella so many times, so I really believe she deserves this.”

After recovering from her initial stumble, Paradise Woods was forced to run in fourth throughout much of the race. As she rounded the far turn, jockey Mike Smith was standing in the saddle, looking for any kind of room. Once he found it, Paradise Woods responded sharply, but she ran out of real estate and could only muster second. Just a Smidge, Exuberance, and a non-threatening Tapped completed the order of finish.

La Force’s win was her first since taking an allowance event here on February 16, 2018, and improved her record to 25-3-8-4 with $550,800 earned. The German-bred daughter of Power made her first three career starts in Italy before being privately purchased and sent to southern California.

“We finally got the win today after knocking on the door so many times,” Gallagher said. “We’re just glad to get there and win. Winning a graded race is a big help for a broodmare prospect, so now she’s done that. We’re really, really happy with her performance.”

La Force returned $12.80 to win, $2.40 to place, and $2.10 to show. Paradise Woods brought back $2.10 to place and $2.10 to show, while Just a Smidge paid $2.80 to show.

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