Faiza and Pride of the Nile Face Off in G3 Las Virgenes

January 26, 2023

Faiza (#3) and Pride of the Nile battle it out in the G1 Starlet at Los Alamitos. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Stable Notes By Victor Ryan

ARCADIA, Calif.— The stakes action starts early Saturday at Santa Anita with the Grade III, $200,000 Las Virgenes for 3-year-old fillies set to go as the second race at approximately 1 p.m. Among the field of six set to compete at a mile on the main track are Faiza and Pride of the Nile, who in last month’s Grade I Starlet were separated by just a head when running one-two at Los Alamitos.

Faiza, who prevailed as the 1-2 favorite under Flavien Prat for trainer Bob Baffert, was partially aided in the victory by a slow start from Pride of the Nile. The second-longest shot on the board at 12-1 for trainer Doug O’Neill, Pride of the Nile stumbled out of the gate under Juan Hernandez and found herself next to last after the opening quarter mile. 

The Pioneerof the Nile filly managed to work her way into contention down the backstretch, and after a rail-skimming move on the second turn, looked poised to spring the upset in the 1 1/16-mile Starlet. But it would ultimately prove to no avail as Faiza, who used a three wide rally on the final bend, outlasted her rival to the wire.

Pride of the Nile will look to turn the tables Saturday in the Las Virgenes, which is a points-paying prep for the Grade I, $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5. Also entered in the Las Virgenes are the highly regarded Justique for trainer John Shirreffs; Uncontrollable, who was third beaten 5 ½ lengths in the Starlet for Michael McCarthy; turf stakes winner Broadway Girls for O’Neill and Sweet Trouble, a two-start maiden for Phil D’Amato.

Pride of the Nile has worked five times since the Starlet including a bullet five-furlong drill in 59.80 seconds on Jan. 13. Just prior to boarding a plane to Florida on Thursday, O’Neill expressed optimism of her chances via phone.

“She’s really been doing well,” he said. “It’s a tough race, but we’re hoping for a similar effort as Los Alamitos.”

Pride of the Nile will again be ridden by Hernandez in the Las Virgenes while Faiza will have new jockey Ramon Vazquez in the irons. He replaces Prat, who on Saturday will ride at Oaklawn Park where his mounts include the Brad Cox-trained Corona Bolt in the Grade III Southwest Stakes, a prep for the Kentucky Derby.

The Las Virgenes serves as stepping stone to the Grade II, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks on April 1 and awards qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks to the top five finishers on a scale of 20-8-6-4-2.

Desormeaux Looks To Make Hay In Saturday Stakes

Having been without a Santa Anita stakes mount since the Blue Norther on Dec. 30, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux will get a pair of added money opportunities with long shots on Saturday.

In the Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual going 1 1/8 miles, Desormeaux has the call on Messier for Bob Baffert. Earlier on the card in the Grade III, $200,000 Las Virgenes, Desormeaux will ride the maiden Sweet Trouble for trainer Phil D’Amato. Messier is the 6-1 fourth choice in the San Pasqual while Sweet Trouble is installed as the longest shot on Jon White’s morning line at 12-1 in the Las Virgenes.

On Thursday at Clocker’s Corner, Desormeaux duly noted Saturday’s opportunities are partially the result of some Santa Anita-based jockeys, including Flavien Prat, John Velazquez and Frankie Dettori, riding elsewhere on Saturday.

“It’s my first start (this meet) for Baffert and I get to ride for Phil – maybe I should get the guys to leave more often,” Desormeaux said.
Desormeaux’s only previous stakes ride this season at Santa Anita was a sixth-place finish aboard Naughty Lottie for his brother, trainer Keith Desormeaux, in the Blue Norther on Dec. 30.

Through the first 12 racing days of the Classic Meet, Desormeaux ranks 16th in the Santa Anita jockey’s standings with three wins from 21 mounts, a 14 percent success rate. He has one mount on Friday and five on Saturday. 

“While the big guys are gone it’s good to give the little guy a chance,” joked Desormeaux, himself a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby who was enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. “I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity I get.”

Desormeaux’s three Kentucky Derby wins came aboard Real Quiet in 1998 for Baffert, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Big Brown in 2008.

Eclipse Award Winners Announced Thursday

The 52nd Eclipse Awards take place tonight in Palm Beach, Fla. and can be viewed live on multiple platforms. FanDuel TV and Racetrack Television Network (RTN) will present the Eclipse Awards starting with the red-carpet show at 3:30 p.m. The ceremony follows at 4 p.m.
Additionally, the Eclipse Awards can be streamed at NTRA.comamericasbestracing.netbloodhorse.comequibase.com and the NTRA Youtube channel.

The star of the show is expected to be the undefeated sensation Flightline, who was stabled at Santa Anita with trainer John Sadler until he was retired following his win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Keeneland. Flightline is a finalist for champion older dirt male and presumably a slam dunk to take home Horse of the Year honors.

Other finalists with Santa Anita ties are Cave Rock (2-year-old male) and Taiba (3-year-old male), Bob Baffert (trainer) and Flavien Prat, who is a finalist for outstanding jockey for the second year in a row.

The Eclipse Awards will be hosted by Britney Eurton, Scott Hazelton and Maggie Wolfendale-Morley. Caton Bredar will serve as the announcer throughout the ceremony.

Player-Friendly Coast To Coast Pick 5 Returns Saturday

Saturday’s Coast to Coast Pick 5 features a heavy dose of stakes action from Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park.

The $1 minimum wager, which features a player-friendly 15 percent takeout, kicks off at approximately 1 p.m. with the Grade III Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. It continues with the 11th race at Gulfstream, the Grade III Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf, before returning to Santa Anita for the third race. The sequence concludes with races 12 and 13 at Gulfstream, which are the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf and Grade I Pegasus World Cup, respectively.

Last Sunday’s Coast to Coast Pick 5 returned $738.50 to 245 winning tickets.

FINISH LINES

There is a $198,087 carryover for Friday’s Rainbow Pick 6. It is a 20-cent minimum wager… Bugler Jay Cohen advises he’ll be back in action at Santa Anita on Friday after being sidelined with an illness… Through the most recent day of racing on Sunday, favorites have won at 29.7 percent clip during the Classic Meet… Every Friday during Santa Anita’s Classic Meet on-track patrons will receive free admission, free parking and drink specials that include $3 beers and $5 margaritas…

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