ARCADIA, CA – Challenged from the opening bell, Argentine-bred Vale Dori repelled a serious effort from Finest City to take Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths under Rafael Bejarano. Trained by Bob Baffert, Vale Dori made every pole a winning one, covering the 1 1/8 mile course in 1:48.81.
Breaking from post position two in a field of eight older fillies and mares, Vale Dori had a neck on Finest City 1/2 mile from home and finally shook loose approaching the 1/16 pole.
“Today was the first time I think that she was pressured almost the whole race,” said Bejarano. “She showed me a lot of power, a lot of heart. I don’t think she minds coming from behind, but having a clean break, I just took it from there.”
A winner of five straight races, the last four graded stakes, Vale Dori, a 5-year-old mare who was a Group 1 winner in her native Argentina at age 3, was off as the 6-5 favorite.
Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, she is now 13-8-3-1, and with the winner’s share of $240,000, she increased her earnings to $934,943.
Finest City, America’s reigning Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter who finished some 9 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Autumn Flower, was stretching out off of a big win here in the 7 furlong Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes on January 21, which followed her signature moment in winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two starts back on November 5.
“She ran great,” said Baze, who was aboard for the first time because regular rider Mike Smith was out of town to ride at Oaklawn Park. “This is probably a little too far for her, but she ran really well. I give the winner credit, she’d never been headed before, and we were head and head the whole way.”
“My filly ran her eyeballs out,” said Finest City’s trainer, Ian Kruljac. “Running second in a Grade 1 isn’t all bad. I’m happy with how she ran.”
Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Autumn Flower held off Lady Tapit by a head for third. Estrecheda, Wild At Heart, Perfect Pic, and Show Stealer completed the order.
Vale Dori returned $4.60, $2.60, and $2.60. Finest City brought back $3 and $2.80, while Autumn Flower paid $10.20 to show.
Note: Bob Baffert was away, en route to Dubai, while his primary assistant, Jimmy Barnes was at Oaklawn Park. Vale Dori was saddled today by Baffert assistant Mike Marlow.
Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes Quotes
Jockey Rafael Bejarano, Vale Dori: “She was definitely ready today. I knew Finest City would be tough, but I was only thinking about the break. (Vale Dori) was more focused today, more consistent. She broke beautifully from the gate.”
“When I saw that Finest City didn’t want to go to the lead, I just took control of the race and took it from there.”
“She was really focused today and she showed me a big kick in the stretch. She was tough.”
“I thought that, from the first jump, Finest City would be fast and would be on the lead. When I saw that she didn’t really want to go and didn’t relax into the first turn, I just took control and took advantage of (Vale Dori’s) speed. I just tried to relax my horse.”
“These are two nice horses, but since I had the lead, I had the advantage.”
“The last time I worked her, about a week ago, she worked really good, galloped out well. I knew she would be really good today, but the only thing was the break. Last time, she had a bad experience, so we just wanted her to relax, and I didn’t play with her too much in the gate.”
Santa Anita Park