Reneesgotzip gained revenge on 1-2 favorite Eden’s Moon in Saturday’s
Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, but she failed to resist
late-running 13-1 shot, Willa B Awesome, in Santa Anita’s premier event
for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
With Martin Pedroza perfectly timing his chestnut filly’s
closing bid, Willa B Awesome was victorious by a nose just after it had
seemed that Garrett Gomez and 17-10 second-choice Reneesgotzip had won
the battle by getting the jump on trainer Bob Baffert’s Eden’s Moon and
But their skirmish through fractions that included a half in
46.81 and six furlongs in 1:09.95 helped turned the war in favor of
Willa B Awesome, who sat just behind the dueling leaders before
desperately getting home in 1:42.47. Reneesgotzip finished 1 ½ lengths
ahead of Eden’s Moon in the field of five.
A pair of inaugural runnings of $200,000 stakes races for
California-bred 3-year-olds at 6 ½ furlongs embellished the day’s
program. The Echo Eddie went to Baffert’s 9-1 shot Derby Gold, who burst
away from his competition in the final sixteenth to defeat favored The
Black by three lengths in 1:14.77. Warren’s Amber, an 11-1 shot ridden
by 19-year-old Eswan Flores, rallied between horses to capture the
Evening Jewel for fillies while defeating favored Starlight Magic by
three-quarters-of-a-length in 1:15.97.
After having been unable to keep up with Eden’s Moon, a 3 ¼
length winner over Reneesgotzip in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at
one mile earlier this month, Willa B Awesome was dismissed at odds of
13-1 in the Oaks.
But Pedroza tweaked the style of the California-bred daughter of
Awesome Gambler on Saturday. After going wire-to-wire to win the Grade
II Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 28, she was within a
length of the battling leaders in the Las Virgenes.
The 46-year-old jockey kept Willa B Awesome just a bit further
back this time. Whereas the filly trained by Walther Solis had become
spent in the Las Virgenes, she was full of run when overcoming the 2
½-length midstretch lead of Reneesgotzip on Saturday.
“I was able to stay wide into the first turn and drop behind
those two leading fillies,” recounted Pedroza. “Inside the
three-and-a-half, I swung my horse to the outside and made my move. When
I asked her to go, I knew I already had put away the Baffert filly, but
I wasn’t sure if I could catch the leader.
“The other filly (Reneesgotzip) looked like she was slowing
down, and my filly was gradually getting to her. I waited until the last
minute to change my stick, hoping that she would give a little more at
the end. I think that was the key to winning.”
“This is our first Grade I win and it’s a special day for the
family,” said 30-year-old assistant trainer Alex Solis, who represented
his father in the winner’s circle. “My father is in Guatemala today for
my sister Maria’s wedding.
“Right now, I don’t know if he knows we won,” continued the
younger Solis. “But I’m sure he’ll find out soon on Twitter. We knew our
filly could close, and Martin gave her the perfect ride.”
Terry Lovingier, the breeder of Willa B Awesome, didn’t seem
sure of the outcome either. “I still think she got beat,” he said in the
winner’s circle following the dramatic finish. “I owned quarter horses
in the 1980s with Scoop Vessels and I’ve owned Thoroughbreds since the
late nineties. This by far outweighs anything that has happened to me in
“I’ve been part of the racing game for 60 years and an owner for
11 years, but this is my first Grade I win,” said Phil Daniels who owns
Willa B Awesome in a partnership that includes Lovingier. “It’s a
major, major day for me. I’m very passionate about the game, and Santa
Anita is my home.
“These horses bring their game every day. This horse is a
fighter. Willa knows no bounds. This horse loves this track, and God
willing, if she stays all together, she’s going to be reckoned with in
November (Breeders’ Cup).”
The mutuels on Willa B Awesome were $29.20, $7 and $2.40.
Reneesgotzip, ridden by Garrett Gomez, paid $3.80 and $2.10. The show
price on Eden’s Moon, with Martin Garcia aboard, was $2.10.
“If they could have come to me just a little bit later in the
race where we could have slowed down just another quarter of a second, I
think she wins,” Gomez said of Reneesgotzip. “She did everything but
win,” said trainer Peter Miller.
The victory was worth $180,000 to the connections of Willa B
Awesome. The purse increased her career earnings to $428,896 from a
4-3-2 record in 12 career starts. The win accounted for her third in a
The outcome of the Echo Eddie provided a small measure of solace
for Baffert, recovering from a heart attack in Dubai where his Game On
Dude and The Factor were soundly beaten in the Dubai World Cup and Dubai
Golden Shaheen, respectively. Later in the day, Eden’s Moon gave way
in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Derby Gold, still a maiden after losing his debut by a neck as
the odds-on favorite, attracted little attention with his quick ascent
into the stakes ranks. But the son of Bertrando rose to the occasion
under jockey Garcia. “This saves the day,” said assistant trainer Jimmy
Barnes, deputizing at Santa Anita for Baffert.
Garcia put Derby Gold into a close tracking position behind
swift pacesetter Pulpit’s Express, bided his time, took the lead
entering the stretch and drew clear. The Black, with Gomez aboard,
defeated Real Conundrum, ridden by Pedroza, by 1 ¼ lengths for the place
in the field of 11.
Racing without the blinkers he wore in his debut, Derby Gold
paid $21.40, $8.40 and $6.20. The Black paid $4 and $3.60 while the show
price on Real Conundrum was $10.40. The winning purse of $110,000
boosted the winner’s earnings to $121,200 for owner Arnold Zetcher.
“This was his second time out,” noted winning jockey Garcia.
“The first time he raced, he wore blinkers and he didn’t know what was
going on. He was waiting for company last race and the winner just flew
right by him. He’s been learning a lot, and today he relaxed well. Just
look at what he showed today. He’s a really good horse.”
In the Evening Jewel, Warren’s Amber rallied from 10th in the
field of 11 to record her second win in seven starts for owner-breeder
Benjamin C. Warren and trainer Jorge Gutierrez. “My horse helped me out a
lot,” said Flores. “This filly just kept running.”
The winning purse of $110,000 more than doubled her previous
earnings of $45,550 in six starts. Gutierrez said Warren’s Amber would
be pointed to Hollywood Park’s $300,000 Melair Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on
A daughter of Broadway Moon, Warren’s Amber paid $24.20, $8.40
and $5.80. Starlight Magic, the 17-10 choice ridden by Mike Smith,
returned $3.60 and $3.20. River Kiss, who ran third at odds of 59-1
under Daniel Vergara, paid $15.40 to show.