Stakes Preview: The Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita

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>Santa Anita/ February 14 / Race 8 / 4:05 PM PST

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#1 Yahilwa looks tough in the Santa Maria off of her previous TimeformUS Speed Figures.

>Learn how TimeformUS Speed Figures work

The Grade 2 Santa Maria for older fillies and mares has been a fixture in the winter Santa Anita stakes meet since 1934, when the country was mired in the depths of The Great Depression. The race has featured its share of notable winners, including a memorable stretch in the 1990s when Bayakoa (1990), Paseana (1992) and Serena’s Song (1996) captured this 8.5-furlong stakes race. This year’s edition has the potential to be an excellent betting opportunity, thanks to a weak set of favorites and some intriguing price horses.Let’s look at the morning line choices, starting with the 2-1 morning line favorite, #6 Warren’s Veneda. This five-year-old mare has really put it together in her last two starts, posting a strong second-place finish in the G2 Bayakoa and following it up with a smashing triumph against a speed bias (note Race Rating box color-coded dark red) in a minor stakes race. In those races, she recorded a 104 speed figure, matching her career best, and then a 108. While this may be a case of a late-developing animal coming into her own, Warren’s Veneda may be about to regress off the two big efforts, and given her short odds, we are willing to let her beat us.

We aren’t enamored of #2 Thegirlinthatsong at 5-2 on the ML either. She has a similar profile to Warren’s Veneda. She’s a journeyman closer who has won 5 of 19 career starts and is coming in off a top speed figure of 104, which makes her only marginally competitive. Not for us.

#1 Yahilwa (5-1 ML) makes sense coming off a dull effort with a nice 70-day freshening. Her races two and three back make her very competitive in here. Yahilwa has a nice combination of tactical speed (105 early pace rating) and finishing ability (68 late pace rating) to make her dangerous in this spot. It’s easy to see her biding her time on the inside and getting first run on the closers if and when the speed folds. Should the morning line hold up, we intend to “come on down” to the betting windows (or punch in a large wager on our iPads) because the price is right.

Of the others, #8 Awesome Baby is one of several Bob Baffert-trained horses entered in the Santa Maria and the one we like best. Unlike most of the other contenders in this race, she comes in fresh, running her second race off a 280-day layoff. This lightly raced filly appears to want two turns, as she is two-for-three at 8.5F. Her most recent comeback race was at 6.5 furlongs, and she got used up on the lead. Awesome Baby (strong 84 breeding rating) is sired by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and has long-winded Irish steed Running Stag on her dam-side. There’s some question if she can withstand the expected early pace pressure and finish strongly enough, but the 8-1 morning line offers good value.

The Play: #1 Yahilwa to win at 4-1+. #1 Yahilwa in an Exacta box with #8 Awesome Baby. Use both in horizontal wagers. Straight Exacta #1 Yahilwa over #6 Warren’s Veneda.

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