SANTA YSABEL STAKES| PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD | FILLIES | GRADE 3 | 1 1/16-MILES
Kaleem Shah Inc.'s Awesome Baby has proven to be a horse of a different color this season, wiring the Santa Ynez in her three-year-old debut on January 4 and duplicating that effort Saturday with a 2 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $100,000 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita Park.
The score gave the dark bay daughter of Awesome Again another 50 points toward a starting berth in the Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Oaks, and she is now third on the leaderboard with 60 points following the initial 10 she earned in the Santa Ynez for trainer Bob Baffert.
Jockey Mike Smith was in the irons for the first time aboard Awesome Baby in her seasonal bow, and retained the mount on Saturday. The duo broke on top from their inside post and set the pace through fractions of :23 2/5, :46 2/5, 1:09 4/5 and 1:34 4/5. Artemis tracked Awesome Baby at first before applying pressure when attempting to slip through on the inside.
Awesome Baby merely picked up the pace and opened up on her rival once again heading into the turn. Artemis and Swiss Lake Yodeler tried to close the gap between them and the leader, but were left to battle it out for second as Awesome Baby drew away in the stretch to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 2/5 over a track labeled wet-fast (sealed) but appeared sloppy.
"The game plan was to break and get a clear lead so we could give her a chance to take a breather," Smith explained. "We weren't sure that she would go long; she didn't at two. We got the first quarter in :23 and it was all her after that.
"I told Bob that I don't know if it was her turning three or the mud today, but I finished with something left. That was real impressive to me since I didn't know if she was going to get the distance at all. And, not only did we get it, but she was well within herself at the wire and pulled up with a lot of energy. I was really impressed.
"I love riding in this stuff; I come from back East. It's the tracks that are drying out that no one really likes but these wet-fast tracks, they're great to ride on."
"She's been working really well and we've been pointing her for this race," Baffert declared. "I was a little bit worried about the off track, but she was very professional today and we were hoping she would run this well. Mike did a great job of keeping her on the lead."
Awesome Baby was the 2-1 second choice in the scratch depleted five-filly field and returned $6.20 for the win. Artemis got second by a half-length over Swiss Lake Yodeler with Saintly Joan a distant 7 1/2 lengths behind in fourth. Be Proud trailed home in last. Anniversary Kitty, Sweet Bliss and Tiz Kissable were all withdrawn.
Awesome Baby showed signs of promise when taking her August 4 maiden debut at Del Mar by 4 3/4 lengths, but then never factored when seventh in the Del Mar Debutante and a well-beaten fifth in the Chandelier to close out her juvenile campaign. She returned to form in the Santa Ynez, and now boasts a 5-3-0-0, $230,250, career record.
Bred in Kentucky by Nicholas and Debbie Sibilio, Awesome Baby was purchased for $220,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The dark bay miss is the first stakes winner out of the Running Stag mare Miss Attractive, who is a half-sister to stakes scorers Amiable Grace and Miss Tizzy. Awesome Baby's female family also includes 1991 Kentucky Derby-winning sire Strike the Gold as well as 1972 English champion two-year-old colt Noble Decree.