ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2016)–Harris Farms’ homebred Velvet Mesquite rallied four-wide at the top of the stretch to take Saturday’s $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint by 1 ¾ lengths under Kent Desormeaux. Trained by Blake Heap, the 6-year-old mare by In Excess outran 10 other older fillies and mares and got 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in 1:13.14.
Although winless in seven starts last year, Velvet Mesquite, who’s five career wins had all come over the hillside turf, was the 5-2 post time favorite and paid $7.80, $4.60 and $3.20. Today’s race was her 19th career start and with the winner’s share of $90,000, she increased her earnings to $433,446.
A close third while under restraint past the half mile pole, Velvet Mesquite took charge a furlong out and was clearly best.
“She just strutted her stuff today,” said Desormeaux. “I was so confident after only 50 yards…This is the first time going to the gate where she didn’t turn a hair…I think if she goes to the gate like she did today, there’s nothing she can’t do.”
Harris, one of California’s leading breeders for more than three decades, was understandably elated.
“She showed a lot of promise every year, but as a mare gets older, you’re not sure if they can maintain their form,” he said. “So now, our big quandary is to breed her or keep her running. But today, she made a pretty good case for staying in training.”
Heap, who came to national prominence in the mid 1980’s with top California-bred sprinter Zany Tactics, was pleased to see his mare bounce back from a seventh place run over the course in the Grade II Monrovia Stakes here on Jan. 3.
“Her last race was a tough one,” he said. “She got the (early) lead and that’s really not what we wanted. Today, everything went perfect. She wants to be just off the pace and everything went right today.”
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Qiaona finished strongly to be second, a neck in front of Heavens Stairway. Off at 8-1, she paid $7.60 and $4.60.
Heavens Stairway, who led the way to the furlong pole, was ridden by Joe Talamo and paid $5.60 to show.
Fractions on the race were 21.69, 43.71 and 1:06.85.