ARCADIA, Calif. (Oct. 11, 2014)–In her first added money foray, favored Velvet Mesquite took Saturday’s $100,000 California Distaff Handicap by a half length under Mike Smith while negotiating 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in 1:12.39.
An absolute course specialist, Velvet Mesquite, a Harris Farms homebred 4-year-old filly by In Excess, notched her fifth win from six tries over Santa Anita’s unique hillside layout in virtual gate to wire fashion as she rocketed past eventual third place finisher Go West Marie early and cut out fractions of 22.17, 44.16 and 1:06.33.
Trained by Blake Heap, Velvet Mesquite broke a bit sluggishly from the nine post in a field of 10 California-bred or sired fillies and mares, but was soon in command under Smith.
“She’s a big filly and she broke a little slow,” said Smith. “She’s so tall, that it took her longer to get up after slipping a little at the start. It took her a couple of jumps. When we turned back to the left, we had a big gap and she just took advantage of it. We went 22 and change and down this hill, that’s like going 23 on a normal track. She was able to establish the lead nicely, was well within herself and had enough to hold them off.”
Dispatched at 5-2, Velvet Mesquite paid $7.40, $4.40 and $3.40. She now has five wins and a second from nine overall starts and with the winner’s share of $60,000, she has earnings of $240,606.
“I think before she went to Del Mar, her weight was a little bit down,” said Heap. “She won here (at Santa Anita on June 20), but she wasn’t as strong. I backed off on her and now she’s strong and finishing stronger…Mike had been working her, but I just told him to ride the race as it sets up. ‘If you’re in front, it’s okay. If you’re sitting back, it’s okay.'”
The third choice at 4-1, Heat Trap, with Brice Blanc aboard, sat mid-pack to the half mile pole and finished with a rush, overhauling Go West Marie late to finish second by one length. She paid $5.20 and $3.60.
“She did a great job,” said Blanc. “There wasn’t enough pressure on the winner early. We quickened when we crossed the dirt, but so did the winner and she had enough left to hold us off.”
Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Go West Marie broke sharply and was on terms with the winner crossing the dirt at the top of the stretch. Off at 9-1, she finished a length in front of longshot Smoove It and paid $4.60 to show.
“I knew the winner was the speed of the speed and I didn’t want to go head and head with her,” said Pedroza. “I just wanted to make sure my filly broke and it worked out perfect because we were able to track the winner and we had a good trip.”
Tribal Spy, the second choice at 7-2 under Joe Talamo, lacked the necessary punch through the lane and finished fifth, while last year’s Distaff winner, Qiaona, with Rafael Bejarano up at 9-2, never made any impact from off the pace and finished eighth.
Santa Anita will offer a nine-race card on Sunday, with first post time at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m.