ARCADIA, Calif. -- Tara's Tango needed seven appearances in stakes before winning such a race in Saturday's $201,035 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita.
Bettors had faith she would win, sending her off as the 9-5 favorite.
Jerry Hollendorfer was confident in Tara's Tango, recalling in recent days that she was second by a nose to Stellar Wind, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2015, in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks here last June.
Jockey Martin Garcia's support was firm. When the Grade 1 winner Birdatthewire made a wide move on the backstretch to challenge for the lead in Saturday's race, Garcia showed patience and kept Tara's Tango in a stalking position.
Tara's Tango closed from fifth in the final three furlongs to win the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes for fillies and mares by a half-length over Yahilwa, the 7-2 third choice. Tara's Tango ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:44.48.
Hollendorfer said he was delighted Garcia kept Tara's Tango close to the pace on the backstretch.
"When I saw her sitting in that position she was in, I thought she had a good chance," Hollendorfer said.
The complexion of the race was different than expected. Living The Life and Yahilwa disputed the pace through early fractions of 23.54 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.97 for the half-mile.
They were joined on the backstretch by Birdatthewire, who moved into contention with a quick rally on the outside. It was not the strategy jockey Mike Smith wanted to employ.
"She just ran off," Smith said. "She got away slow. There was one thing on her mind and that was going to the front."
Birdatthewire, the winner of the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Dec. 26, faded from contention in the final furlong. She was the 2-1 second choice and was the favorite in early betting.
Yahilwa finished three-quarters of a length in front of Living The Life, who was followed by Kyriaki, Birdatthewire, Star Act, Gas Total, and Big Break, who was fractious in the gate.
Tara's Tango is owned by Stonestreet Stables, who bred the 4-year-old filly by Unbridled's Song. The Santa Maria was Tara's Tango's third start of the meeting, preceded by a fourth after a slow start in the minor Kalookan Queen Stakes on Dec. 30 and a third, by a neck as the 3-1 favorite, in the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs on Jan. 23.
Tara's Tango has won 3 of 9 starts and earned $318,004. Hollendorfer hinted that Tara's Tango will be considered for the $500,000 Santa Margarita Invitational at 1-1/8 miles for fillies and mares on March 19.