Saturday Stakes Preview: In the G1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, we’ll always have Taris


>>Go to the PPs for The Santa Margarita, Post Time 4:40 PDT Saturday

The Grade 1, $500,000 Santa Margarita has a field of seven older fillies and mares going a mile and 1/8 on the main track. The field is led by Taris, who is looking for her third straight graded stakes win.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be Taris. She is followed by Penwith, Tara’s Tango, and Living the Life.

The fastest Late Pace rating in the field belongs to All Star Bub.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Living The Life (8-1): Sending her to the lead in the Santa Maria was an interesting move. Unfortunately, she ended up receiving an annoying trip. The talented-but-rank Birdatthewire seemed to go against her rider’s wishes, insisting on challenging Living the Life from her outside early. Then the dead-game Yahilwa went up the rail to make things much worse. Still, Living The Life put up a brave fight to finish third and recorded a competitive speed figure of 117. A six-year-old with 30 starts under her belt, she is now approaching her lifetime top again. Can she run two alike? Her record on this is mixed. Plus it seems likely that if she is sent from her rail post (which could well happen, Pace Projector notwithstanding), she will have Taris clocking her to her outside much of the way.

Tara’s Tango (5-2): One of several horses in here who enter off a lifetime top (a 118 in this case), Tara’s Tango became a Grade 2 winner in the Santa Maria, run at 8.5F over this surface a month ago. After breaking poorly, she settled three-wide and then two-wide around the first turn, stalked from the outside down the backstretch, made a three-wide run around the far turn, and had enough to run down Yahilwa and Living the Life. It was a strong effort. By no means did she receive a soft trip. She is now running six points faster than her three-year-old top, which may or may not be her limit for the short term. A daughter of Unbridled’s Song, she acts as if the added distance will be no obstacle. She goes for a top trainer and switches to Bejarano. She is an obvious contender. But is she up to dealing with Taris if that one fires a shot that is anything like her last two? We tend to doubt it.

Penwith (5-2): With the exception of a trip to Indiana, this five-year-old has done all her racing in New York and Florida. She has won at this distance, and her most recent start, her 13th, was her best. Receiving a comfortable two-wide stalking trip in a short field, she took the Grade 2 Royal Delta with a speed figure of 118. The race received a Race Rating that is seven points lower than today’s. And playing five-year-olds off significant new tops can be dicey. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gets a 94 rating when attempting a repeat victory and a 96 with circuit switchers, but he has a minimal history at Santa Anita. While we respect Penwith, we believe that she is conceding too many edges (including home court and speed figures) to Taris to like her at morning line odds.

Lavender Chrissie (10-1): Has scratched.

Moyo Honey (12-1): Now 3 for 6 lifetime, she ran a 14-point new dirt top in her four-year-old debut, in a second-level allowance. She did so with a pleasant two-wide stalking trip. She faces much tougher today. She’d again have to improve by something like 15+ points if Taris shows up at her best. Of the longshots, we prefer the filly immediately below.

All Star Bub (15-1): We believe that this Hollendorfer filly ran quite a bit better than it looks when she won a second-level allowance over this track in January. She rode the rail all the way to mid-stretch, lacked room and was brimming with energy behind the slow pace (note pace figures color-coded in blue), finally got out, and then accelerated away from her opponents in style. We feel she could have run quite a bit faster with a different trip. However, given that she has 15 races under her belt, we are disinclined to imagine her running a whole lot faster than her lifetime top, which leaves her well short of Taris.

Taris (8-5):

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 8.03.32 PM

She tried a route in the third start of her career and ran poorly despite having perfectly fine route breeding. Then her connections kept her sprinting for her next six races, and she turned into a top sprinter. Then she tried a one-turn mile in the Grade 3 Go For Wand at Aqueduct, and she responded with a victory and a speed figure of 120. Placed in a two-turn 8.5F Grade 2 at Santa Anita six weeks later, she appeared to rate comfortably, and then she ran off and hid—earning a speed figure of 122 despite a three-wide trip. Today, she will be going an extra 1/16th and making her second start as a five-year-old. She has drawn outside in a race that features a long run to the first turn. Gary Stevens would seem to have the option of looking to his left out of the gate and then either going for the lead (as Pace Projector projects) or stalking from the outside (as we expect). In any event, to us, Taris looks a little bit too strong for this field.

The Bottom Line:

We will not try to beat Taris. Underneath, Living the Life and All Star Bub look semi-viable to us at good odds, but keeping Tara’s Tango out of the exacta (let alone the trifecta) seems difficult. Hoping Penwith fails to fire off the cross-country ship seems more appetizing to us.

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