BUENA VISTA HANDICAP | PURSE: $150,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 MILE (TURF)
Top turf sprinter Mizdirection hadn't raced as far as a mile since the summer of her sophomore campaign, but she looked like a natural when stepping back up to that distance in Monday's Grade 2, $150,750 Buena Vista Handicap at Santa Anita. Owned by noted sports broadcaster Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, William Strauss, Daniel Grohs, Boris Beljak, KMN Racing et al., the 3-5 favorite led throughout and kicked on to finish in a sprightly 1:33 2/5 on the firm turf.
"It's very exciting, but you never know until she does it," Rome said. "She looked pretty good, and with the fraction of :23 and [almost] four, I thought that's a good place for her to be.
"She likes to play, that's a great way to put it. She's so competitive. The way she dug in through the stretch was awesome. She's amazing."
Making her effort even more admirable, Mizdirection had grabbed a quarter when bumped at the start.
Mizdirection had won her last race at a mile, the 2011 Sandy Blue Handicap at Del Mar, but she had a tendency to travel too keenly. As a result, trainer Mike Puype shortened her up to sprints, and the gray daughter of Mizzen Mast soon found her niche. Mizdirection reached the pinnacle by defeating males in the November 3 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, and successfully defended her title in the Grade 2 Monrovia last time out on January 6.
Puype surmised that now was the time to try the older and wiser Mizdirection once more at a mile, and the five-year-old mare was the picture of composure on the front end. Loping along, Mizdirection established fractions of :23 3/5, :47 and 1:10 1/5. Byrama gave chase, while the overeager In the Stars was pulling her way into a stalking spot on the rail for Gary Stevens.
Turning into the stretch, In the Stars came out and had every opportunity to unleash her pent-up run, but Mizdirection was herself quickening stylishly. The class of the field increased her margin inside the final furlong, drawing away by 2 1/4 lengths, and opening up a wider array of options for the future.
"She's a much more mature horse this year," Smith observed. "She's stronger, she's bigger, and she'll definitely get a mile. I thought if a horse was going to come to her she would have dug back in, so now at least we have options. There's not too many six or six and a halves, but we can kind of pick our spots. I don't know how much further we want to go than this, but she can certainly get a mile."
Mizdirection "grabbed a pretty good-sized quarter off that foot, too," Puype reported, "so we're going to have to go to work on that after the race.
"It's a testament to how tough she is," her trainer added. "She was training beautiful going into this race. I thought she was actually as good if not better than [before] the Breeders' Cup, the way she was training for this.
"I felt OK with her on the lead," Puype said. "She was very good, nice and relaxed and very professional."
The winning connections also were complimentary of runner-up In the Stars.
"Let me tell you something," Puype said. "The filly chasing her is a good horse. I thought In the Stars was the horse to beat today. She came after her [Mizdirection] like she was going to make it a race, and Mike looked like he had a lot of horse. I'm very pleased."
"That filly [In the Stars] tends to get a little strong at times," Smith noted. "But I knew ol' golden hands [Stevens] would get her to relax. I knew he was loaded behind me, but to be honest, when we headed for home and my mare got over to her right lead and I asked her to run, she jumped into the bridle. It was like we started out of the gate again. She came home the last quarter in [a shade over] :22 and change, and not too many do that."
Stevens in turn paid tribute to the winner.
"Coming into the stretch, I was wanting to get out (aboard In the Stars) and the way it turned out, it didn't matter much anyway," Stevens recapped. "Once I found room and got out, she (Mizdirection) just sprinted away from me. I would have liked it better if I could have been parked on the outside and engaged Mizdirection from, like, the three-furlong pole, but it turned into a sprint, and Mizdirection has a hell of a turn of foot and flew away from me. Another day, another time."
In the Stars crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Byrama. Charm the Maker checked in fourth, followed by Long Face, Trois Aureole, A Jealous Woman and Byrony in a strung-out field.
Worth $3.20, $2.60 and $2.10 to her fans, Mizdirection's seventh career stakes score improved her record to 14-9-4-1, $1,094,621. An 11 1/2-length maiden romper in a turf sprint maiden at Hollywood Park, she placed in the Manhattan Beach over the same course and six-furlong trip in her stakes debut. Mizdirection stretched out to a mile for the Grade 2 San Clemente, where she set the pace before being caught and relegated to second. After holding on by a diminishing three-quarters of a length in the Sandy Blue, she reverted to sprinting in the Grade 2 Raven Run over Keeneland's Polytrack, rallied late for a close fourth, and was promoted to third via disqualification.
Mizdirection then reeled off a four-race winning streak, including the 2012 Monrovia (then a Grade 3), Clocker's Corner Handicap and the off-the-turf Las Cienegas Handicap. Her skein was ended when she had to settle for second in the Great Lady M. at Hollywood last May, but regained the winning thread next time in the Breeders' Cup off a five-month layoff. Mizdirection has now won three in a row, and seven of her last eight.
"She's just a pleasure to have," Puype said. "She makes me look good. We have a lot of options as to what we're going to consider at this point. She shows up. How do you not look at her record and see 11 starts on turf, eight wins, three seconds, never missed the board in a start. She's the ultimate professional."
Bred in Kentucky by Joseph Perrotta, Mizdirection was produced by the Clever Trick mare Deceptive, who is also the dam of stakes winner Hurricane Bernie. This is the extended family of Grade 1 vixen Hooh Why and Grade 3 victor Jaded Dancer.
Mizdirection, first sold for $85,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, later brought $50,000 as a two-year-old in training at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale.