The top three from the January 26 Grade 3 Santa Ysabel and the top two from the January 21 Grade 2 Santa Ynez will join three others in the Santa Anita starting gate Saturday for the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes. The one-mile contest has drawn some of the top sophomore fillies on the West Coast and will be a chance at redemption for some and vindication for others.
Beholder was honored as the champion two-year-old filly of 2012 following a front-running victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November in just her second stakes try. However, the speedy Richard Mandella pupil raised some eyebrows when dueled into second by 20-1 shot Renee's Titan in the Santa Ynez in her sophomore bow.
It was only after the race that her connections discovered Beholder was suffering from a throat ulcer. The malady was quickly taken care of, and Beholder has been posting some nice works in advance of the Las Virgenes, most recently going five furlongs in :59 3/5 last Sunday. Garrett Gomez has been aboard the Henny Hughes filly in all six of her lifetime starts thus far and retains the mount Saturday as she seeks to erase her Santa Yneza effort.
Renee's Titan jumped up in a big way to take the Santa Ynez for trainer Doug O'Neill. The bay daughter of Bernstein ran second by three parts of a length in the 8 1/2-furlong Sharp Cat on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track prior to a well-beaten sixth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet under those same conditions in early December.
The Kentucky-bred miss outran her odds in the Santa Ynez to score under Tyler Baze, and will stick with that rider while seeking validation in the Las Virgenes.
Fiftyshadesofhay didn't light up the toteboard quite as much as Renee's Titan, but the Bob Baffert trainee still surprised many at 6-1 in the Santa Ysabel. The Pulpit filly sailed home over the sealed, wet-fast track at Santa Anita to score by 5 3/4 lengths on the wire. Behind her were 2-1 second choice Heir Kitty, who had 1 1/2 lengths to spare on 3-2 favorite Scarlet Strike in the short five-filly field.
Fiftyshadesofhay took four tries to break her maiden, bettering her position in each race by one spot to finally claim a first win, then immediately stepped up to face stakes company while trying turf for the first time in the Blue Norther at Santa Anita. She stalked the early pace on the rail in that one-mile affair and was only 2 3/4 lengths behind in eighth after the top four were only separated by two noses and a neck on the wire.
The bay lass finished behind Scarlet Strike and Heir Kitty in the Blue Norther, but easily turned the tables in the Santa Ysabel and will go for the same result on Saturday with regular rider Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Scarlet Strike is still seeking that elusive first stakes victory following placings in her past five attempts. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained bay was second in the Grade 1 Chandelier following her maiden win, filled the third spot in the Sharp Cat and Starlet in her next two, then just missed by a nose in the Blue Norther before her third-placed run in the Santa Ysabel.
Jockey Mike Smith was aboard for Scarlet Strike's maiden win and takes the mount back from Joe Talamo for the Las Virgenes.
Heir Kitty will also get a jockey switch after Garrett Gomez opted for Beholder. Julien Leparoux will take the reins aboard the Peter Miller filly as she, too, goes for a first black-type win.
The Wildcat Heir bay romped in her maiden debut last July at Hollywood and then finished second when taking on the boys in the Grade 2 Best Pal for her next start at Del Mar. She couldn't duplicate that performance in her next two in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and Grade 3 Hollywood Futurity, but returned to the winner's circle against allowance rivals in early December.
Following her fifth in the Blue Norther and second in the Santa Ysabel, Heir Kitty took a trip to the starting gate for the February 16 Sweet Life on Santa Anita's downhill turf and is wheeling back in the Las Virgenes spot from the two-week layoff.
The remaining runners in the Las Virgenes -- maiden Ridingwiththedevil, maiden winner Lady Asano and Grade 3-placed Speedinthruthecity -- look up against it facing this bunch.