PEDROZA, SOUTHERN FIREBALL STEAL SARA SMILE PURSE AT 8-1 ODDS

ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 25, 2011) – Southern Fireball, the longest shot in a field of four and the only entrant who had never placed in a graded stakes race, successfully committed a bit of larceny Friday in Santa Anita’s $61,740 Sara Smile Purse for fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs.

Before the field had run a quarter-mile, the 4-year-old Southern Image filly had rocketed to a two-length lead, and, under the nursing of jockey Martin Pedroza, 8-1 shot Southern Fireball repelled 9-10 favorite Gilded Gem by a head at the wire.

In gaining her first victory in eight starts over 10 months, the Doug O’Neill trainee ran the distance in 1:15.11 following favorable fractions of 23.02, 45.50 and 1:09.00.

“She was the speed of the race, and we wanted to take advantage of her speed,” said Pedroza following his 27th win at the meet. Those who thought she could do just that were rewarded with payoffs of $19 and $6. There was no show betting following the scratch of Subsidized earlier in the day.

Gilded Gem, with leading rider Rafael Bejarano seeking his fourth win of the afternoon, was heavily supported following a second place finish to Switch, one of the nation’s premier older females, in the Grade I Santa Monica Stakes on Jan. 30.

But trainer Bob Baffert’s classy 5-year-old mare could not quite overtake the winner while rallying gamely on the outside. She paid $3 to place.

Mona de Momma, winner of the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs last May, did not fare well in her second effort on the comeback trail. The 7-5 second choice, ridden by Joel Rosario, faded to last, 1 ¼ lengths behind third-place Silver Swallow with Mike Smith in the saddle.

Friday’s win marked Southern Fireball’s second start over a dirt surface after having finished fourth in the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks in West Virginia last September.

In acquiring her fourth victory in 14 career starts, she earned $37,800 for the partnership of King Arthur Farms, George Bolton, Robert Masters and Michael Lewis. The winning purse brought her career earnings to $171,789.

Evening Jewel, last year’s California-bred of the Year, heads a field of eight statebred fillies and mares in Saturday’s $100,000 Valentine Dancer Handicap, scheduled to be run at one mile on turf. First post of the card of nine races is at 12:30 p.m.

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