WILLA B AWESOME, AT 13-1, ENDS UP WITH THE SPOILS IN HOTLY CONTESTED GRADE I SANTA ANITA OAKS AS FAVORITES GIVE WAY

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 31, 2012) – Reneesgotzip gained revenge on 1-2 favorite Eden’s Moon in Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, but she failed to resist late-running 13-1 shot, Willa B Awesome, in Santa Anita’s premier event for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

With Martin Pedroza perfectly timing his chestnut filly’s closing bid, Willa B Awesome was victorious by a nose just after it had seemed that Garrett Gomez and 17-10 second-choice Reneesgotzip had won the battle by getting the jump on trainer Bob Baffert’s Eden’s Moon and never conceding.

But their skirmish through fractions that included a half in 46.81 and six furlongs in 1:09.95 helped turned the war in favor of Willa B Awesome, who sat just behind the dueling leaders before desperately getting home in 1:42.47. Reneesgotzip finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of Eden’s Moon in the field of five.

A pair of inaugural runnings of $200,000 stakes races for California-bred 3-year-olds at 6 ½ furlongs embellished the day’s program. The Echo Eddie went to Baffert’s 9-1 shot Derby Gold, who burst away from his competition in the final sixteenth to defeat favored The Black by three lengths in 1:14.77. Warren’s Amber, an 11-1 shot ridden by 19-year-old Eswan Flores, rallied between horses to capture the Evening Jewel for fillies while defeating favored Starlight Magic by three-quarters-of-a-length in 1:15.97.

After having been unable to keep up with Eden’s Moon, a 3 ¼ length winner over Reneesgotzip in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile earlier this month, Willa B Awesome was dismissed at odds of 13-1 in the Oaks.

But Pedroza tweaked the style of the California-bred daughter of Awesome Gambler on Saturday. After going wire-to-wire to win the Grade II Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 28, she was within a length of the battling leaders in the Las Virgenes.

The 46-year-old jockey kept Willa B Awesome just a bit further back this time. Whereas the filly trained by Walther Solis had become spent in the Las Virgenes, she was full of run when overcoming the 2 ½-length midstretch lead of Reneesgotzip on Saturday.

“I was able to stay wide into the first turn and drop behind those two leading fillies,” recounted Pedroza. “Inside the three-and-a-half, I swung my horse to the outside and made my move. When I asked her to go, I knew I already had put away the Baffert filly, but I wasn’t sure if I could catch the leader.

“The other filly (Reneesgotzip) looked like she was slowing down, and my filly was gradually getting to her. I waited until the last minute to change my stick, hoping that she would give a little more at the end. I think that was the key to winning.”

“This is our first Grade I win and it’s a special day for the family,” said 30-year-old assistant trainer Alex Solis, who represented his father in the winner’s circle. “My father is in Guatemala today for my sister Maria’s wedding.

“Right now, I don’t know if he knows we won,” continued the younger Solis. “But I’m sure he’ll find out soon on Twitter. We knew our filly could close, and Martin gave her the perfect ride.”

Terry Lovingier, the breeder of Willa B Awesome, didn’t seem sure of the outcome either. “I still think she got beat,” he said in the winner’s circle following the dramatic finish. “I owned quarter horses in the 1980s with Scoop Vessels and I’ve owned Thoroughbreds since the late nineties. This by far outweighs anything that has happened to me in horse racing.”

“I’ve been part of the racing game for 60 years and an owner for 11 years, but this is my first Grade I win,” said Phil Daniels who owns Willa B Awesome in a partnership that includes Lovingier. “It’s a major, major day for me. I’m very passionate about the game, and Santa Anita is my home.

“These horses bring their game every day. This horse is a fighter. Willa knows no bounds. This horse loves this track, and God willing, if she stays all together, she’s going to be reckoned with in November (Breeders’ Cup).”

The mutuels on Willa B Awesome were $29.20, $7 and $2.40. Reneesgotzip, ridden by Garrett Gomez, paid $3.80 and $2.10. The show price on Eden’s Moon, with Martin Garcia aboard, was $2.10.

“If they could have come to me just a little bit later in the race where we could have slowed down just another quarter of a second, I think she wins,” Gomez said of Reneesgotzip. “She did everything but win,” said trainer Peter Miller.

The victory was worth $180,000 to the connections of Willa B Awesome. The purse increased her career earnings to $428,896 from a 4-3-2 record in 12 career starts. The win accounted for her third in a stakes race.

The outcome of the Echo Eddie provided a small measure of solace for Baffert, recovering from a heart attack in Dubai where his Game On Dude and The Factor were soundly beaten in the Dubai World Cup and Dubai Golden Shaheen, respectively. Later in the day, Eden’s Moon gave way in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Derby Gold, still a maiden after losing his debut by a neck as the odds-on favorite, attracted little attention with his quick ascent into the stakes ranks. But the son of Bertrando rose to the occasion under jockey Garcia. “This saves the day,” said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, deputizing at Santa Anita for Baffert.

Garcia put Derby Gold into a close tracking position behind swift pacesetter Pulpit’s Express, bided his time, took the lead entering the stretch and drew clear. The Black, with Gomez aboard, defeated Real Conundrum, ridden by Pedroza, by 1 ¼ lengths for the place in the field of 11.

Racing without the blinkers he wore in his debut, Derby Gold paid $21.40, $8.40 and $6.20. The Black paid $4 and $3.60 while the show price on Real Conundrum was $10.40. The winning purse of $110,000 boosted the winner’s earnings to $121,200 for owner Arnold Zetcher.

“This was his second time out,” noted winning jockey Garcia. “The first time he raced, he wore blinkers and he didn’t know what was going on. He was waiting for company last race and the winner just flew right by him. He’s been learning a lot, and today he relaxed well. Just look at what he showed today. He’s a really good horse.”

In the Evening Jewel, Warren’s Amber rallied from 10th in the field of 11 to record her second win in seven starts for owner-breeder Benjamin C. Warren and trainer Jorge Gutierrez. “My horse helped me out a lot,” said Flores. “This filly just kept running.”

The winning purse of $110,000 more than doubled her previous earnings of $45,550 in six starts. Gutierrez said Warren’s Amber would be pointed to Hollywood Park’s $300,000 Melair Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on April 28.

A daughter of Broadway Moon, Warren’s Amber paid $24.20, $8.40 and $5.80. Starlight Magic, the 17-10 choice ridden by Mike Smith, returned $3.60 and $3.20. River Kiss, who ran third at odds of 59-1 under Daniel Vergara, paid $15.40 to show.

Sunday’s nine-race card on April Fool’s Day is headed by the 1st running of the $75,000 Sidd Finch Purse at one mile on turf. First post is at 12:30 p.m.

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