ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 28, 2019)–Lightly raced and cast in her first Grade I assignment, Hard Not to Love rallied from well off the pace to register a 2 ¼ length win over odds-on favorite Bellafina in Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita. Ridden by Mike Smith and trained by John Shirreffs, Hard Not to Love got seven furlongs in 1:22.17 while providing Smith with his 216th career Grade I win, tying him with retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.
Last with three furlongs to run, Hard Not to Love made an eye catching run around the far turn and collared Bellafina, who had fought off a serious challenge from Mother Mother, inside the sixteenth pole to win going away as Smith emulated Bailey’s horizontal “Cigar” fist pump at the wire.
In her first pairing with Smith, Hard Not to Love, who took a six furlong allowance here by three quarters of a length on Oct. 25, was off at 11-1 and paid $25.20, $6.60 and $4.20.
Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and Mercedes Stables, Hard Not to Love, an Ontario-Canadian-bred daughter of Hard Spun, picked up $180,000 for the win, increasing her earnings to $288,480. Out of the Vindication mare Loving Vindication, Hard Not to Love now has four wins from five overall starts.
Bellafina, who took charge coming out of the chute and onto the course proper, was challenged around the far turn by Mother Mother, who got on terms with her a quarter mile out. Although she shook clear of Mother Mother a furlong from home, her chances were compromised to the extent she was no match for the winner late.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Bellafina, who was off at 3-5, finished one length in front of Mother Mother and paid $2.40 and $2.10.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Mother Mother, who finished 4 ½ lengths clear of First Star, was off at 6-1 and paid $3.60 to show.
Fractions on the race were 21.70, 44.41 and 1:09.31.
Via Santa Anita Press release