In a thoroughly dominant performance, heavily favored Venetian Harbor went to the early lead and never relinquished it, waltzing home to a 9 ¼ victory in Saturday's Grade II, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita. Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Richard Baltas, the 3-year-old daughter of Munnings got a flat mile in 1:37.51 while geared down late.
Fresh off of a 10 ¾ length maiden win going 6 ½ furlongs on Dec. 29, Venetian Harbor tried winners and two turns for the first time today and responded with a dominant gate to wire score that stamps her an early contender for both the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on April 4 and the Grade I Kentucky Oaks May 1.
“The plan was to break and just get her to relax,” said Baltas. “She's very strong and Flavien did a great job, getting her to relax…It looked like at the three eighths pole, we might get passed, but I was just hoping the public was right.
“I am happy she got the two turns. That was a bit of a concern today, she had never been two turns and this is a tiring track. She trains at San Luis Rey, she is doing good down there and I didn't want to change anything. She delivered today…She passed the first test.”
The 1-5 favorite in a field of five sophomore fillies, Venetian Harbor paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10.
“She broke sharp and put us in a great position very easily,” said Prat, who had ridden her to a second place finish in her first start, a five furlong turf sprint at Del Mar Nov. 15. “We got a breather around the (far) turn, she grabbed the bit and really ran well from there.”
Owned by Domenic Savides, Ciaglia Racing, LLC, Highland Yard and River Oak Farm, Venetian Harbor, who is out of the Street Cry mare Sounds of the City, is now two for three and with the winner's share of $120,000, increased her earnings to $163,400.
Fourth early, Gingham, off at 4-1 with Drayden Van Dyke, paid $2.80 and $2.10 while finishing 2 ¼ lengths in front of Stellar Sound.
Ridden by Mike Smith, Stellar Sound loomed ominously heading into the far turn, but was summarily rebuffed by the winner leaving the quarter pole and was third best, finishing 9 ¼ lengths in front of Go Big Blue Nation. Off at 9-2, Stellar Sound paid $2.20 to show.
Fractions, all set by the winner, were 23.20, 46.72, 1:11.74 and 1:24.12.
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