SANTA ANITA OAKS | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 1 1/16-MILES
Overlooked Willa B Awesome caught Reneesgotzip at the wire to post a 13-1 upset by a nose in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks March 31 as odds-on choice Eden's Moon disappointed.
Ridden by Martin Pedroza, who returned from suspension a day earlier, Willa B Awesome stalked the leaders Reneesgotzip and Eden's Moon throughout the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-old fillies before wearing down her rivals in deep stretch.
Walther Solis, who trains the winning daughter of Awesome Gambler, notched his first career grade I victory for owners Phil Daniels, Patsy London, John Winters, and Terry Lovingier, who bred the chestnut filly in California.
"This is our first grade I win and it's a special day for the family," said 30-year-old Alex Solis. "My father [Walther] is in Guatemala today for my sister's [Maria] wedding. Right now I don't know if he knows we won, but I'm sure he'll find out soon on Twitter. We knew our filly could close and Martin gave her the perfect ride. I'm just glad she got up."
Willa B Awesome ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.47. Reneesgotzip, wearing blinkers for the first time, was forced to settle for second, with 1-2 choice Eden's Moon tailing off to finish third in the field of five.
Reneesgotzip, who raced erratically in the Las Virgenes, hustled to the lead over her rival, who broke from the rail. She opened up a comfortable advantage over Eden's Moon as Willa B Awesome tugged at Pedroza while racing closely in third. They sped through quarter-mile fractions of :23.41, :46.81, and 1:09.45. Reneesgotzip edged away from Eden's Moon in the far turn to lead by two lengths at the quarter pole.
Willa B Awesome angled out on the final bend to pursue the leaders three wide in the lane. Reneesgotzip, under urging from from Garrett Gomez, was 2 1/2 lengths clear at the furlong marker. However, she began to drift in deep stretch and Willa B Awesome grinded it out under strong encouragement from Pedroza in the final sixteenth of a mile to get up just in time.
Reneesgotzip, ridden for the first time by Gomez, finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Eden's Moon, who was under the whip from Martin Garcia leaving the far turn but was outrun.
"She did everything but win," said Peter Miller, trainer of Grade 2 winner Reneesgotzip. "She ran her eyeballs out. I'm very proud of the filly. We had Eden's Moon hounding us in the first part and we put her away. We just couldn't hold off [Willa B Awesome]."
Willa B Awesome earned $180,000 for the victory. The consistent filly, who is out of the Nineeleven mare Cause I'm Tricky, ran her record to 4-3-2 from 12 races with a total bankroll of $428,896.
"I still think she got beat!" exclaimed Lovingier. "I owned quarter horses in the 1980s with Scoop Vessels and I've owned Thoroughbreds since the late nineties. This by far outweighs everything that's happened to me in horse racing. The mare [Cause I'm Tricky] is in foal for next year with a full brother or sister."
Added co-owner Daniels: "This horse loves this track, and God willing, if she stays all together, she's going to be reckoned with in November [in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic]."
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Willa B Awesome paid $29.20, $7, and $2.40 while topping a $71.40 exacta. An unlucky Reneesgotzip returned $3.80 and $2.10. The Bob Baffert-trained Eden's Moon paid $2.10 to show.
"I was able to stay wide into the first turn and drop behind those two leading fillies," Pedroza noted. "I swung my horse out to Martin Garcia because I knew he had enough horse and I didn't want to stay inside of him. So I got her to the outside and made my move. When I asked her to go I know I had already put away the Baffert filly, but I wasn't sure if I would catch the leader. [Reneesgotzip] looked like she was slowing down and my filly was gradually getting to her. I waited until the last minute to change my stick hoping that she would give me a little more at the end. I think that was the key to winning."