ARCADIA, CA — A maiden winner in her second start going 5 1/2 furlongs on March 11, Paradise Woods took the 78th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks by a record 11 3/4 lengths in gate-to wire-fashion.
Ridden by Flavien Prat, Paradise Woods eclipsed a 58-year-old mark established by Hall of Famer Silver Spoon, who took the 1959 Santa Susana (later renamed to Santa Anita Oaks) by 10 1/2 lengths under Ray York for Hall of Fame conditioner R.L. Wheeler. With 100 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points in hand, it’s on to America’s most prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
“I’ve always been high on her,” said Prat. “From the first time that I worked her, I said ‘That one is really good.’ She ran well her first time out, but I was expecting so much more that I was almost disappointed.
“The next time out, she won like a good filly. She’s so smart. If you teach her something, she remembers it the next day, it sticks. She’s super small, she’s fast, and she has stamina. She’s so good. It’s an honor to ride her, truly. Down the backside, it was all her, I didn’t do anything. I just let her have her way.”
Bred in Kentucky by the late Herman Sarkowsky and owned by Steven Sarkowsky and Pam and Martin Wygod, Paradise Woods is now two for three. With the winner’s share of $240,000, the Richard Mandella trainee increased her earnings to $283,200.
“She looked like she was just cruising out there,” said Mandella. “At the 1/2-mile pole, she was going easy. She took my breath away. It means a lot to win for (Herman) Sarkowsky. He was an owner with me for 38 years. I have always been high on her. I wasn’t that confident, but I fully expected her to run good. I didn’t think she would do this.
“She has only had three starts, so we’ll see about the Kentucky Oaks and how things develop. She was really nasty to saddle today, but she ran great.”
Fractions on the race were 23.46, 47.35, 1:11.48, and 1:36.07. The filly out of Union Rags completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.53.
Ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Bob Baffert, the 4-5 favorite Abel Tasman was last around the far turn and swung six-wide for home, but at that point, the Oaks was over, and she got up to finish 2 1/4 lengths in front of It Tiz Well. Off at 4-5, Abel Tasman picked up 40 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points. It Tiz Well earned 20, while 10 went to the fourth-place finisher, Mopotism. Majestic Quality, Bernina Star, and Princess Karen completed the order of finish.
“There was no catching the winner,” said Smith. “And that was good enough for today. We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board, make a couple of changes, and see if we can run in the Kentucky Oaks.”
“Now I’ve got a race into her, I know what I need to do to sharpen her up,” Baffert said. “She’ll move forward off that—still the Kentucky Oaks.”
Paradise Woods returned $18.20, $6, and $3.60. Abel Tasman brought back $2.80 and $2.10, while It Tiz Well paid $2.20 to show.
Jockey Flavien Prat, Paradise Woods: “I learned she can make the distance, no problem.”
Trainer Richard Mandella, Paradise Woods: “I was thinking of running her short tomorrow in the Santa Paula, but when Unique Bella scratched, I thought we should take a shot. I thought she was as good as these fillies, and she showed it today.”
Jockey Mike Smith, Abel Tasman: “You know, Mandella’s horse really just blew the field away. She just broke, they call it ‘speed poppin’ the field’ sometimes. She broke and was gone. I made sure we got second. Today, it was all Mandella. No one was beating that horse. (Abel Tasman is) still learning, maybe a few little things we could do that would certainly make her better. So, we’ve got room to play with. We lost the battle, but the big one’s yet to come. She was just gone.”
Trainer Bob Baffert, Abel Tasman: “She was back there, and you have to be up close to the lead. I think Mike Smith got a feel for her today.”
Santa Anita Park