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Iotapa best in Santa Maria

SANTA MARIA STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES

Hronis Racing LLC's Iotapa didn't lose any time taking the lead in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,250 Santa Maria at Santa Anita, and she also didn't waver in her control of the pace under jockey Joe Talamo. The John Sadler pupil was sent off the 2-1 second choice against her five rivals and returned $6.40 for taking the win by 1 ¾ lengths on the wire.

Iotapa utilized her inside rail post to good effect, heading to the front out of the gate and setting splits of :23 ⅕, :47 ⅗ and 1:11 ⅗ while tracked by Yahilwa to her outside. Let Faith Arise raced in tandem with Ondine, who was saving ground just off the rail in behind the top two, before moving up to challenge on the outside of Yahilwa rounding the turn.

Iotapa easily turned back Let Faith Arise and continued motoring in the lane to finish the 8 ½-furlong, fast-track contest in 1:42 ⅕.

"When she drew the rail, I didn't want to waste the post," Sadler explained the decision to go to the lead with Iotapa. "You don't want to get sucked back out of the one, so I thought she'd be first or second, but I left it up to Joe [Talamo]."

"We were going pretty slow and that was kind of our plan, to take her to the lead," Talamo agreed. "She was just pricking her ears back and forth. I was happy with the fractions today; I pretty much just stayed out of her way.

"She showed a lot of class today; I was so fortunate to get back on her. This was a great claim on their part. This was all class, she's never been worse than third and she's run some great races. Looking for a big year from her."

Stanwyck rallied another 1 ¾ lengths back of Let Faith Airse after running in the rear early to grab third by a half-length over Yahilwa, while Ondine and Golden Production completed the order under the wire. Fiftyshadesofhay was withdrawn after reportedly popping an abscess.

"We had a perfect trip," stated Corey Nakatani, who held the reins on Let Faith Arise. "There was more pace on paper than what developed in the race. I could see that the winner got an easy lead, but I said, 'Don't move too soon, cause you won't finish like you need to.' The way it turned out, my filly relaxed well and she finished well. This was only her second time around two turns, so it was a great effort."

Iotapa was making just her second start in this spot following a six-month layoff. The Afleet Alex filly ran third in the San Clemente Handicap at Del Mar last July, then didn't reappear until posting a runner-up effort in the January 25 Santa Monica most recently.

Initially saddled by Marty Jones to take her maiden debut in June 2012 at Hollywood Park, Iotapa was claimed out of that contest and wouldn't face competition again until sent out for an optional claiming victory at Santa Anita last February by Sadler. She finished second to champion Beholder in the Santa Anita Oaks while making her stakes bow, then captured her first stakes win in the Railbird a month later back at Hollywood.

"When I'm claiming, I don't have to call them [owners] and explain it," Sadler said. "I just jump in there when I see something I like. You get lucky that way.

"She's never run a bad race. She's got very good form; one-two every time. The one third, she didn't really like the grass [in the San Clemente]."

"He's the guy," co-owner Kosta Hronis said in reference to Sadler. "He's our leader. We've paid a lot of money for horses; this one we got kind of a bargain through the claim box."

Iotapa would race just twice more as a sophomore, finishing second in the Hollywood Oaks prior to the San Clemente, and has now banked $363,490 in lifetime earnings to go along with her 8-4-3-1 scorecard.

"Hopefully, she'll go in the [Grade 1, $350,000] Santa Margarita [on March 15]," Sadler added. "I don't know the spacing on that but we're looking to have her all year."

Bred in Kentucky by GEM Inc., Bajer & O'Hara, Iotapa is the first registered foal out of the winning El Corredor mare Concinnous and counts as a half-sister stakes-placed Saintly Joan. The duo's fourth dam is Grade 1 queen Alma North, whose descendents also include Points Offthebench as well as Grade 3 winners Visible Gold and Bench Points. Points Offthebench was posthumously honored as the 2013 champion sprinter after suffering a fatal training accident while preparing for last November's Breeders' Cup Sprint.