Ce Ce the One to Beat in Sunday’s Santa Maria at Santa Anita

By Margaret Ransom

Sunday’s 79th running of the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, which before the coronavirus pandemic served as the traditional prep for the Santa Margarita Stakes (G1), drew a compact but highly talented field of five for the main track test.

Ce Ce –  Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park

The Santa Margarita, traditionally run in March, was canceled this year, leaving this $200,000 test the signature event for distaffers on the newly returned Santa Anita stakes calendar.

With the best fillies and mares from the division either retired, yet to return from breaks or too young to run in the older female division, most of these races turn up light on numbers and long on talent. This year is no exception.

One again the Santa Maria will be run at the same distance — 1 1/16 miles — since it switched from 7 furlongs in 1957.

Among the more notable names on the list of runners to have reached the winner’s circle in the Santa Maria are racing Hall of Famers Gamely, Dark Mirage, Gallant Bloom, Susan’s Girl, Bayakoa, Paseana and Serena’s Song, as well as multiple Grade 1-winning distaffers Jewel Princess, Manistique, and Star Parade.

Champion Unique Bella, who had her first foal earlier this year, took home the win in 2018 and La Force was victorious a year ago.

Retired Hall of Famer Laffit Pincay Jr. booted home six Santa Maria winners, while Charlie Whittingham and still active Ron McAnally – both Hall of Famers as well – each saddled five winners.

Of the five conditioners who will be represented in here this year, two – Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs – have each sent out a winner previously. Of the five jockeys who will head postward, Mike Smith was aboard two previous winners and Victor Espinoza rode one.

Bo Hirsch’s homebred Ce Ce is riding an impressive three-race win streak, including the Apple Blossom Stakes (G1) at this distance at Oaklawn Park a month ago. Now she returns to her home track, where she’s won three of four races with a second.

The super consistent daughter of Elusive Quality and the Belong To Me mare Miss Houdini (a daughter of the Grade 1 winner Magical Maiden) has some tactical ability, but seems to prefer to take back early and make a run at the speed down the lane.

Espinoza has ridden the Mike McCarthy trainee in all six of her career starts and is back aboard here, and her speed figures indicate she’ll be tough to beat.

West Point Thoroughbreds and Mercedes Stable’s Hard Not To Love, the one-eyed wonder, makes her first start since losing the Beholder Mile (G1) by a head to Ce Ce, but before that she rode a three-race win skein, which included two graded stakes.

Hard Not To Love – Courtesy of Benoit Photo

She’s never finished worse than third in her seven-race career and Shirreffs and Smith have worked carefully with this sometimes temperamental daughter of Hard Spun to get her to relax.

While the inside post is probably not the best (let’s face it, any one-eyed horse has a significant disadvantage) she has some tactical ability and can be placed wherever is best and safest. She’s never been this distance, but she’s bred for it, and has been training well since her last start.

Fighting Mad returns off a two-week layoff and a fourth-place finish (she crossed the wire in third and was disqualified for bumping with rivals multiple times) in the Desert Stormer Stakes at 6 furlongs, which was her first start since winning the Torrey Pines Stakes (G3) at Del Mar last summer.

The Gary and Mary West homebred daughter of New Year’s Day stretches out to the distance for the first time, but is bred for more distance and is surely fit, judging by her regular workout pattern for Baffert.

Abel Cedillo takes over and it’s a good bet she’ll be heading right to the front from the break.

Horologist has struggled a bit since being moved cross-country and to trainer Richard Baltas’ care last fall.

The Gemologist filly is a Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed, but the closest she’s come to the winner’s circle since is a second in the Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel in mid-March.

She’s certainly well-traveled, having made several cross-country trips in her career, and though she hasn’t won in a while, the talent and ability is there. She does pick up the services of leading rider Flavien Prat, which only helps her chances here.

Kaydetre, who is coming off a nice allowance win at a mile over this track a week ago and has been holding her head high among some of the toughest in this division for breeder David Randall.

She just doesn’t win these races very often and it’d be hard to imagine she’d win today. However, she has shown her best can earn her a piece.

The Santa Maria is Sunday’s seventh-race feature with a post time of 3:42 p.m. PT.

The field, in post-position order:

Santa Maria Stakes – The Field

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Hard Not to Love Mike Smith John Shirreffs 9-5
2 Ce Ce Victor Espinoza Michael McCarthy 3-5
3 Fighting Mad Abel Cedillo Bob Baffert 6-1
4 Horologist Flavien Prat Richard Baltas 8-1
5 Kaydetre Brice Blanc David Randall 20-1

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