Photo: Benoit Photos
In recent years, few early-season races
in Southern California have produced as many top-class horses as the
Las Virgenes Stakes, which will be run Saturday afternoon at Santa
Anita Park. Three of the last seven renewals have been won by
champions Rags to Riches, Blind Luck, and Beholder, and this weekend,
eight 3-year-old fillies will go postward in an attempt to earn 50
Kentucky Oaks points. Here's a look at the field.
1) Saintly Joan (15-1)
you toss her run in the Blue Norther Stakes on New Year's Day on
turf, she fits. The John O'Hara trainee has a win at Santa Anita, and
two back, she ran third in a stakes race at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Martin Pedroza stays on.
Cons: She didn't beat much in her win
here last October, and the daughter of Northern Afleet was beaten
more than 17 lengths in her lone top-three performance against
2) Fashion Plate (4-1)
Pros: She's gotten
better with every start. Her victory last out was accomplished in
wire-to-wire fashion over this surface, and the internal fractions
(:21.97 for the quarter, :44.89 for the half) were sizzling. Gary
Stevens will ride.
Cons: She stretches out to two turns, and
that could be a dicey proposition given a pedigree that doesn't
scream stamina. This is also her first effort against winners, and
she may not have beaten much in her maiden-breaking romp.
Pros: She may have been left with too much to
do last out in the Hollywood Starlet. She rated 11 lengths off a very
modest early pace, and she rallied a bit to finish fifth. If she runs
back to her triumph two back in the Sharp Cat, this filly, bred to
love two turns, could be a live longshot.
Cons: That stakes
victory is her lone win to date in five career starts, including two
failed tries at Santa Anita. Given her two starts at Hollywood Park,
a synthetic surface, she may not be at her best on conventional
4) Artemis (4-1)
Pros: She's never run a bad one
in three career starts. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee prevailed in a
hotly-contested maiden race last out, and it came at this
eight-furlong distance. Mike Smith hops aboard, and he's been winning
at an astonishing clip.
Cons: Like many others, this is her
first try against winners. The second-place finisher behind her last
out, one who finished just a length behind Artemis, finished a pretty
distant third at next asking.
5) Earthflight (15-1)
A shipper from across the pond, this one had a solid, if
unspectacular, 2-year-old campaign, winning three races. She gets
Lasix for the first time, and Tyler Baze has ridden well since his
return from a lengthy suspension.
Cons: We don't know if she
can run on dirt, and she hasn't run since mid-November.
Sushi Empire (8-1)
Pros: She broke her maiden in the Blue
Norther Stakes at Santa Anita on New Year's Day, beating fellow Las
Virgenes entrant Saintly Joan and graded stakes-winner Full Ransom,
among others. Her pedigree (by Empire Maker, out of a Danzig mare) is
exceptional, and the distance shouldn't be an issue.
That stakes win came on turf. In fact, she's never run on dirt, and
while her lone recent dirt work (a five-furlong drill on January
27th) wasn't bad, this seems like an ambitious spot for a
horse whose accomplishments have all come on the lawn.
Taste Like Candy (5/2)
Pros: She's never run a bad one, and
has twice run second in graded stakes races. Her run in the Santa
Ynez was strong, as she was forced to the rail before rallying late
going shorter. Before that, she ran a very good second in the
Hollywood Starlet, and the potent Bejarano-Hollendorfer duo is
Cons: That loss in the Starlet came to Streaming, who
lines up to her outside in this spot. She'll want to contest the
early lead, and she may have to battle Fashion Plate for it.
Pros: The lone Grade 1 winner in this field,
the Bob Baffert trainee is a perfect 2-for-2. Her local worktab is
exceptional, and she doesn't look like a horse who will have trouble
switching from a synthetic surface to dirt.
Cons: This isn't a
great post. With the short run to the first turn, the daughter of
Smart Strike could be parked wide early on, and she'll need to be
within striking distance of what could be a contentious early pace.