German-bred La Force sprung a major surprise on Saturday at Santa Anita, as she rallied from last to upset heavily favored Paradise Woods by 1 ¼ lengths in the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes under Drayden Van Dyke. Trained by Paddy Gallagher, La Force, a 5-year-old mare, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.91.
With Paradise Woods taking a stutter-step at the break, the complexion of the race changed significantly, but although the fractions were modest, La Force was still able to mount an impressive rally from off the pace.
“The filly was in a good spot,” said Gallagher. “The favorite stumbled at the start, I have to watch the replay, but we thought she would be on the lead, but it didn't turn out that way and La Force put it together and we're very happy. Chuck gave instructions to (Van Dyke) when we were in the paddock and that was it.”
Last but on the move three furlongs from home, La Force rallied five-wide at the top of the stretch and held off Paradise Woods, who had waited while tucked inside around the far turn.
Most recently second, beaten 10 ½ lengths by Paradise Woods in the Grade II Santa Margarita Stakes on April 27, La Force was the second choice among five fillies and mares three and up at 5-1 and paid $12.80, $2.40 and $2.10.
“Mike (Smith) and Paradise Woods stumbling at the start really didn't change anything for me,” said Van Dyke. “I had a great outside post and she tends to like being in the clear…It did help her a little, (Paradise Woods) stumbling, obviously, because it made the trip more difficult for her and only helped us. She's just an honest trying filly, she's very, very classy.
“Like I said, she really brings it every time. It's very rewarding getting this win with her. She ran second to Unique Bella so many times, so I really believe she deserves this.”
Owned by Ward and Roberta Williford and Charles Winner (who is also Chairman of the CHRB), La Force, who is multiple Grade I stakes placed, got her first ever stakes win today and improved her overall mark to 25-3-8-4. With the winner's share of $120,000, she increased her earnings to $550,800.
Even though she stumbled leaving the gate and was therefore off the pace instead of on it, it appeared Smith was in the process of engineering an improbable come from behind win around the far turn aboard Paradise Woods.
“I still thought I could win at the quarter pole, but by the time I got out, the winner kicked away from us and we couldn't get 'em,” Smith said.
The overwhelming 1-5 favorite, Paradise Woods finished 3 ½ lengths in front of Just a Smidge and paid $2.10 and $2.10.
Ridden by Martin Garcia, Just a Smidge, who broke from the rail, carved out the early pace but was third best, finishing 3 ¾ lengths in front of Exuberance. Off at 13-1, Just a Smidge paid $2.80 to show.
Fractions on the race were 24.21, 48.51, 1:13.32 and 1:39.15.
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