Santa Barbara just needed to find a sliver of room to show her late turn-of-foot. The Aidan O’Brien trainee finally got that small opening in the final furlong and capitalized with a strong surge to the finish, running down five competitors, including pacesetter Con Lima, for a half-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational for sophomore fillies going 1 1/4 miles on the Belmont Park inner turf course.
The 43rd running of the Belmont Oaks Invitational was the first leg of the Turf Triple series, with the remaining sequence for 3-year-old fillies extending at Saratoga Race Course on August 8 with the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks, held at 1 3/16-miles [1,900 meters]on the Saratoga lawn; and concludes with the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at 1 3/8-miles [2,200 meters] on the Belmont turf on September 18.
The Irish-bred Santa Barbara earned valuable experience with her first four races in Europe against top-flight competition before making her North American debut. A winner at first asking in September at the Curragh, Santa Barbara entered the Group 1 Thousand Guineas as the mutuel favorite, finishing fourth at one mile at Newmarket in May. Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg, she ran fifth in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Oaks on June 4 and was second in the Group 1 Pretty Polly defeated a head to 4-year-old Thundering Nights.
On a Belmont turf course labeled good, the even-money favorite Santa Barbara broke from post 5 under internationally acclaimed jockey Ryan Moore and tracked in fifth position as Con Lima led the eight-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in 24.71 seconds, the half in 51.31 and three-quarters in 1:16.40.
Out of the final turn, a bunched-up field appeared to make a late rally a difficult proposition for Santa Barbara, but Moore tipped her out slightly from the rail and found a seam, overtaking Spanish Loveaffair and then Gam’s Mission. With three rivals ahead to her inside, Santa Barbara was unrelenting, running down Nazuna and Higher Truth before besting Con Lima in the final sixteenth, hitting the wire in 2:03.76 to earn her first career stakes win.
Con Lima edged Higher Truth by a nose for second, with Gam’s Mission finishing fourth. Plum Ali, Nazuna, Cirona and Spanish Loveaffair completed the order of finish.
“It was quite a steadily run race,” Moore said. “They lined up and I was hoping Nazuna would drop away a bit sooner. I didn’t want to waste too much petrol by going around her. She got class. She’s got ability. She won without me moving a muscle.
“I had to go out one switch [path] and I didn’t want to, but I had to,” he added. “We’re lucky we got out in time. She done it very easily. I’m very happy with her.”
Santa Barbara returned $4.30 on a $2 win wager. She improved her career earnings to $501,612.
The win helped the regally bred Santa Barbara, by Camelot and out of the Danehill mare Senta’s Dream, rack up her own accomplishments to match those of her family. She is also a half-sister to 2019 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf-winner Iridessa and 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile victor Order of Australia.
“She’s been used to faster ground, so it probably took her a while to pick things up today on that slow ground,” said O’Brien assistant T.J. Comerford. “That was a good performance for her. Ryan knows her better than anyone and he knew that she had plenty of speed, so it was never a problem. She showed plenty of turn of foot in her other Group 1 starts in the Oaks and at the Curragh, she got beat by a good older filly [Thundering Nights]. She’s getting better as she gets on. Anytime you win a Group 1 is great.”
Con Lima, the stakes-tested Commissioner filly for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, earned black type for a third consecutive race, following back-to-back wins in the Honey Ryder in May at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 3 Wonder Again on June 3 at Belmont.
“She had a good trip and broke well,” said Con Lima jockey Flavien Prat, aboard for her last two starts. “She was travelling well. The distance was good. I thought it was a good run from her.”
Pletcher said he was pleased with his filly’s effort and could point her towards the Saratoga Oaks next.
“She ran awesome. I’m very proud of her,” Pletcher said. “She ran a huge race. It was a big effort. She proved that she belonged. She had a good trip. It was the trip we were hoping to get, but we were second best on the day. She ran hard and kicked hard. We just got nailed by a nice filly.”
Higher Truth, with the conditioner-jockey tandem of Chad Brown and Jose Ortiz bidding to secure the respective Belmont spring/summer meet riding and training titles, saw the daughter of the late Galileo finish in the money in her stakes bow.
“She’s a very nice filly. She did everything right,” Ortiz said. “Going into this race, she won two in a row. She handled the distance which is always the most important thing. She has tactical speed and put herself in a winning position. That helped her a lot, she ran very well.”
Live racing resumes Sunday with the finale of the 48-day spring/summer meet at Belmont with a nine-race card at a 12:30 p.m. Eastern first post. Closing Day will be headlined by the $150,000 River Memories for older fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles on the turf in Race 8.
The 40-day summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course will open Thursday, July 15 and extend through Labor Day, September 6.
NYRA Belmont Press Release
Photo: Santa Barbara (Joe Labozetta Photo)