ARCADIA, Calif. (April 18, 2009) – After a wait that seemed endless on Saturday, Black Mamba realized a fate all too similar to the one that had befallen her one year before when beaten by the shortest of noses in Santa Anita’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap, but this time it was Magical Fantasy who took her measure.

A 4-year-old filly ridden by Alex Solis, Magical Fantasy barely rebuffed the circuitous charge from last by Black Mamba in the 61st running of the mile-and-one-quarter turf event for fillies and mares raced in 1:59.83. It was of small consolation to Black Mamba, who was ridden by Joel Rosario, that she avenged last year’s narrow nose loss to Foxysox. The latter wound up a well-beaten fifth this time.

Magical Fantasy closed strongly to overtake 5-2 favorite Toque de Queda in the final quarter, which was run in 23.41, to prevail, but ever so barely. Toque de Queda finished three-quarters of a length behind the top pair, both exactly 3-1 in the wagering. Foxysox also was sent off at 3-1.

The finish was so tight that winning trainer Paddy Gallagher had his doubts. “I felt like the other filly had it right before the wire, and my filly came on. I would have taken a dead heat.” Commented John Sadler, who trains Black Mamba, “At first I thought we got beat a nose, and then when I watched the replay, well, it was really close.” Said Solis, “I knew it was close, and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if she had her nose down on the wire.”

Magical Fantasy paid $8, $4.60 and $3.40 for her hard-earned victory. Black Mamba, 9-2 when beaten last year, paid $4.20 and $3. Toque de Queda, with Victor Espinoza in the irons, paid $3 to show.

Owned by the partnership of David Bienstock, Paul Mandabach and Charles Winner, British-import Magical Fantasy gained her second stakes victory and first since posting a 42-1 upset in last summer’s Del Mar Oaks.

The Kentucky-bred daughter of Diesis earned $120,000 to boost her career winnings to $452,431 from a 3-4-0 record in 14 lifetime starts.

“I had a perfect trip until we got to the three-eighths pole,” said Solis. “Espinoza (aboard Toque de Queda) came up inside on the rail, and I had to put the brakes on. I lost all my momentum. She got back into the race right away, though, and we got the job done, but she should have won by two or three lengths.”

Magical Fantasy returned to the turf in the Santa Barbara following a runner-up effort in the Grade II La Canada Stakes and a fourth in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap, both on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface. “Getting back on grass is better for her,” observed Solis.

Black Mamba, meanwhile, remains winless in eight races over Santa Anita’s turf course while having finished second four times and third on three occasions. But there’s always next year’s Santa Barbara for the 6-year-old mare who has earned $702,171.

After winning 2 of 3 starts including a maiden event this season over the track’s hillside turf course, Mr Gruff was victorious in his stakes debut with a front-running triumph in the day’s co-featured Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap.

With regular rider Rosario aboard, the lightly-raced 5-year-old gelding resisted the late rally by Doppio to win by three quarters of a length while traversing the 6 ½-furlong layout in 1:11.88.
It was another one-half length back to Euroglide in third among the nine starters. Desert Code, upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint over the course in October, faded to last after pressing the early pace. Both Mr Gruff and slightly favored Desert Code were sent off at odds of 5-2 as was Prussian, who wound up a non-threatening sixth.

Mr Gruff paid $7.60, and $5 and $3.60. The mutuels on 21-1 shot Doppio, ridden by Solis, were $17.60 and $7. Euroglide, with Michael Baze in the saddle, paid $5.40 to show.
Ron Ellis, who trains Mr Gruff for Gary Broad, was not displeased with the early fractions of 22.01 and 43.61 coming down the hill. “The fractions were okay,” Ellis said. “He was just doing it so easy. He’s got a lot of natural speed, and Desert Code looked like he was struggling to keep up with him the first half-mile.

“He’s (Mr Gruff) really learned to run down this hill,” continued Ellis, “so he just kind of spurted away at the head of the lane. But it looked like Joel had a ton of horse all the way.”
“He went pretty fast the first half,” Rosario said, “but my horse likes to be on the lead, so I sent him. After the first half, he relaxed pretty good and he went all the way.”

After being winless in two starts over Santa Anita’s main track last year, Mr Gruff returned this season at a relatively advanced age to break his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths in his turf debut. He subsequently lost an allowance race by a nose before coming back to win by 2 ¾ in his third start over the layout.

The son of Mr. Greeley’s first stakes victory was worth $60,000 and brought his career earnings to $137,880 from a 3-2-0 record in six races.
Santa Anita’s 72nd season comes to a close on Sunday with a 10-race program featuring the historic San Juan Capistrano Handicap, a Grade II, $200,000 marathon at 1 ¾ miles on turf. First post is at 12:30 p.m.