ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2011) – Trainer John Sadler, who won three graded stakes on Santa Anita’s opening day Dec. 26, added a couple more on Saturday when Zazu upset previously unbeaten Turbulent Descent in the Grade I, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes and heavily favored Twirling Candy ran away with the Grade II, $200,000 Strub Stakes in front of a rollicking on-track crowd of 17,396.

Zazu’s dramatic score in the event for 3-year-old fillies broadened Sadler’s grasp on serious contenders to those in no less than six of racing’s divisions, a remarkable showing by the 54-year-old trainer who once was a show horse rider.

His once-beaten Twirling Candy, opening-day winner of the Grade I Malibu Stakes, was nothing short of brilliant in capturing the 64th running of the historic Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds by 4 ½ lengths over Tweebster to all but ensure favoritism in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 5. Twirling Candy was geared down at the wire by Joel Rosario while covering the 1 1/8 miles distance in 1:46.53.

Sadler’s other staunch divisional contenders include Sidney’s Candy, Jenny Craig’s companion standout 4-year-old, turf; Switch, older female; Cost of Freedom, sprinter, and Runflatout, a very impressive 3-year-old maiden race winner who may be headed for the San Anita Derby. He has Gladding set to contend in Sunday’s Grade II San Antonio Handicap for older horses. And Zazu gave Sadler a strong presence in the 3-year-old filly division with her victory in the Las Virgenes.

On the flip side Saturday, popular trainer Humberto Ascanio ended an 0-for-46 drought when his horses, Fluke and Proudinsky, ran one-two in the afternoon’s third graded stakes event, the Grade III, $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap at one mile on turf.

In the Strub, Twirling Candy tracked Indian Firewater though fractions of 23.44, 46.33 and 1:09.95. He swept to the front nearing the quarter pole. The Equibase official racing chart described the run to the wire in these terms: Twirling Candy “kicked clear under a mild hand ride passing midstretch and was under a snug hold late.”

Tweebster was clearly second best with Rafael Bejarano aloft, finishing 2 ½ lengths ahead of third-place Make Music for Me and jockey Chantal Sutherland. Indian Firewater, ridden by Mike Smith, faded to fourth.

“Mike (Smith) tried to send his horse to the lead and get a clean trip early,” said Rosario. It was tough to get my horse to relax for a little bit. Going to the half-mile pole, he relaxed really nice for me, which is what I wanted. I just followed the horse on the lead (Indian Firewater), and my horse just did unbelievable.”

“He’s such a nice horse,” said Sadler. “My job is just to be a good steward and take good care of him because he’s a natural runner. My only concern is that I do a good job because I really feel this is the best horse in the county. He’s a really good horse, so I feel a strong sense of stewardship, that I do the right things and pick the races carefully. I just don’t want to make any mistakes because he’s that good.”

Twirling Candy’s sixth win in seven starts was worth $120,000 to the Craig Family Trust as his earnings expanded to $579,900. As the 1-2 favorite, he paid $3, $2.40 and $2.10 in the field of seven. Tweebster paid $3.60 and $2.80. The show return on Make Music for Me was $5.60.

Bet down to odds of 2-5, Turbulent Descent’s unbeaten streak came apart when she couldn’t match strides with 4-1 second choice Zazu in deep stretch of their one-mile Las Virgenes competition while returning from an eight-week freshening.

The pair rallied almost simultaneously in the field of seven, Zazu on the inside with Rosario aboard, and Turbulent Descent on the outside under David Flores. They seemed to pull nearly even while battling for the lead in midstretch before the improving Zazu burst clear to win by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:34.86 for the one-mile distance.

The victory was the first in a stakes race for the Tapit offspring trained by Sadler for Jerome and Ann Moss and only her second in six races, but she had the look of a filly on the ascent.

Even though a co-third choice at 9-2 on the morning line among six starters, Zazu became the most fancied alternate to the odds-on favorite, largely off a strong second in the Grade II Santa Ynez on Jan. 15. On that occasion, she missed by a neck to California Nectar despite a slow break and racing wide.

Rosario lost no ground on Saturday. “I saw I was going to have a clean trip inside, and I took it,” he said. “Last time I rode her, she finished second to another nice filly at seven furlongs.

“Today she showed me a little more and we took it from there. John (Sadler) told me to lie in the saddle and come with one late run. Same thing we always do with nice horses like her.”

Sadler pointed out that Zazu had run second by 1 ¼ lengths to Turbulent Descent in Hollywood Park’s Moccasin Stakes at seven furlongs last Nov. 21. “What I liked about today’s race,” he said, “even though you’re so scared to say what you think might happen, because it never does, but it looked like there were three or four that wanted the front. I thought that would really help her today.

“She has a short run and she wants to close, and in some of those other races, it hasn’t played that way for her. So there was a fast pace in front of her, and that’s what we were hoping for.”

Mike Puype, who trains Turbulent Descent, accepted the outcome. “She probably got a little tired,” he said. “She hasn’t run in eight weeks. She ran good. She got outrun by the Mosses (owners of Zazu). It was a good race. She just got outrun today.”

Turbulent Descent finished 4 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Plum Pretty with Martin Garcia aboard. May Day Rose, who set the pace that included fractions of 21.58 and 44.25, faded to fourth. California Nectar, who pressed the early pace, gave way badly while winding up fifth.

Zazu paid $10, $3.20 and $2.40. The mutuels on Turbulent Descent were $2.40 and $2.10 while Plum Pretty paid $4 to show. A $285,000 sales purchase by the Mosses, Zazu earned $150,000 on Saturday to bring her total earnings to $240,985 from a record of 2-3-0 in six starts.

In the Thunder Road, Fluke closed strongly under Joe Talamo to overtake stablemate Proudinsky by three-quarters of a length. The latter, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, had engaged Colgan’s Chip in a pace duel. The 3-1 favorite discouraged Colgan’s Chip but was unable to withstand the rally by his stablemate, also 3-1.

Ascanio is the former aid to Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. Eleven days after Frankel’s death due to lymphoma on Nov. 16, 2009, Ascanio won Hollywood Park’s Grade I Citation Handicap with Fluke at odds of 9-1 Fluke had been second in three races since, including a nose loss in Santa Anita’s Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Handicap last March.

“It’s been a rough go,” Ascanio acknowledged following the Thunder Road. “But it’s over, so we’ll look forward to more wins.” He said his one-two finishers had been “running good, but not good enough to win.” Added Ascanio, “I didn’t think Proudinsky would be in front, but he was, and he ran good. I liked both of them. I thought either one could win.”

Brazilian-bred Fluke ran the distance in 1:33.77. “We had a perfect trip,” Talamo said. “I thought we’d be laying second (instead of fourth in a field of nine), but it worked out better this way. This horse is better with a target. Sometimes when he gets to the lead, too early, he throws his ears up and loses focus. He was just perfect today.”

Victor’s Cry, with Victor Espinoza aboard, ran on for third, three-quarters of a length behind Proudinsky. The winner paid $8.60, $3.60 and $2.40. His stablemate returned $4 and $3. Victor’s Cry paid $3.60 to show. `

While breaking the string of seconds for owner Patricia Bozano, Fluke earned $60,000 which elevated the 6-year-old bay’s overall bankroll to $457,948 from a career record of 6-6-0 in 15 starts.

Aggie Engineer seeks his fourth straight win as the 6-5 favorite in Sunday’s Grade II, $150,000 San Antonio Stakes as Santa Anita presents an eight-race card on Super Bowl Sunday with a special early first post time of 11 a.m.