SANTA YSABEL STAKES | PURSE: $100,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 3 | 1 1/16 MILES
Fiftyshadesofhay flew home in the stretch of Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita to take her first stakes victory in impressive fashion under jockey Rafael Bejarano. The Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Pulpit bided her time in second on the backstretch of the 1 1/16-mile contest before easily swooping past pacesetter Escape Act to take command and draw off by 5 3/4 lengths on the wire.
Both Fiftyshadesofhay and Escape Act were exiting stakes debuts in the grassy Blue Norther, with Fiftyshadesofhay finishing eighth that day and Escape Act getting up to be fourth, just a neck back of the winner in a blanket finish. This time around, the duo were in front instead of racing in midpack and Escape Act posted splits of :22 2/5 and :26 1/5 for the first half-mile.
Fiftyshadesofhay took over rounding the turn, getting three-quarters in 1:10 4/5, and kept motoring to finish up in 1:42 4/5 over the sealed, wet-fast dirt at Santa Anita.
"I had to move a little early today. The pace was fast but the way the track played today was really fast," Bejarano said. "I was really comfortable with my horse, and when I saw the other horse [Escape Act] was done at the three-eighths pole I let my horse go and open up three or four lengths in the stretch because I knew they weren't going to catch me."
Campaigned by Karl Watson, Michael Pegram and Paul Weitman, Fiftyshadesofhay was sent off the 6-1 second longest shot in the five-horse field and and returned $14.40, $4.80 and $2.40 to her faithful backers.
Heir Kitty, who was fifth in the Blue Norther, split rivals on the turn and got up for second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of 3-2 favorite and Blue Norther nose runner-up Scarlet Strike. Switch to the Lead was fourth, eased under the wire 27 1/4 lengths back of Scarlet Strike, while Escape Act was also eased in the lane another 20 3/4 lengths behind in last. Branding was withdrawn.
"We had a pretty good trip today. The track is pretty fast. Wherever they want to race, they just kind of seemed to stay there," said Scarlet Strike's rider, Joe Talamo. "Obviously, I thought we were going to win. We were pretty high on her coming in, but the track's so quick today, it's hard to make up any ground. They all seemed to run in place."
Fiftyshadesofhay took four tries to break her maiden, improving her position by one spot in each race to finally get the job done over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track on November 22 in a gate-to-wire effort. The bay filly never appeared to factor while trying turf for the first time in the Blue Norther last out, and improved her career record to 6-2-1-1, $106,490, following the Santa Ysabel.
"I knew she'd break well, the way the track was today," Baffert remarked. "The turf race (Blue Norther) was kind of disastrous. We thought we'd put her in here and get her out there and let her roll.
"She can run all day long. She's fast and she wants to be out there. We had a big advantage the way the track is playing today. We were very high on her early in the year and it's taken her a while to come around. But she ran like she's supposed to do. She didn't like the turf, so it was a good win.
"She has a high cruising speed. She's not going to kick on; she's not going to be quick enough for that, but she can go a mile-and-an-eighth, a mile-and-a-quarter. She can go really far. Today she got the trip. The turf race was an experiment that didn't work, and it worked out today."
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Fiftyshadesofhay sold for $175,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She is the second registered foal out of the Grade 1-placed Real Quiet mare Quiet Kim and counts as her fourth dam the stakes-winning It's Freezing mare Ice Fantasy.
That one would produce dual Grade 3 victor Fighting Fantasy as well as the dam of Grade 1 winner Snow Ridge. Afleet Express, hero of the 2010 Grade 1 Travers, is also descended from Ice Fantasy.