It might have been assisted by a flurry of scratches after the Buena Vista (G3) was rained off the turf, but Ramona Bass’s Wild at Heart will take her breakthrough graded victory on Saturday at Santa Anita.
Originally holding Grade 2 status, the one-mile affair was automatically downgraded on account of the surface switch, pending review by the American Graded Stakes Committee. Since more than half of the field – six of 11 entrants – bowed out, including the top two morning-line choices Illuminant and Prize Exhibit, it would be no surprise if the Buena Vista remains a Grade 3.
Wild at Heart wasn’t discomfited at all by the change, having spent nearly all of her career on the dirt, and bettors backed her into 3-2 favoritism. The Richard Mandella mare brought a trio of graded placings from the 2015 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and last fall’s L.A. Woman (G3) and Bayakoa (G2). After a subpar fourth in the La Canada (G2) last out, Mandella wanted to give her another chance on the turf. The deluge thwarted his plan, but worked out well for her resume and broodmare value.
Under meet-leading rider Flavien Prat, Wild at Heart sat the garden trip in third behind a raucous pace. Hillhouse High was beset by Lily Pod at the end of the quarter in :22.97 on the fast track. Lily Pod headed the early leader at the half in :45.89, and Hillhouse High began to retreat on the far turn. Wild at Heart ranged up on the outside to engage Lily Pod at the three-quarter mark in 1:10.22, and the two dueled briefly in upper stretch. Always going the stronger, Wild at Heart pulled away by 3 1/2 lengths and finished in 1:36.48.
Lily Pod was all alone in second, 6 1/4 lengths clear of Hillhouse High, who just salvaged third from Jeremy’s Legacy. Mokat, the 9-5 second choice, was off her game at every stage in a non-threatening last of five.
The five-year-old Wild at Heart has now earned $331,305 from an 11-3-4-2 line. Bred by Martin Cherry in Kentucky, the bay sold for $450,000 as an OBS March two-year-old. She’s by Indian Charlie and out of the multiple stakes-placed Honor Grades mare Lady Cerise, who’s also responsible for multiple stakes-winning turf performer Pickapocket, stakes scorer Northern Belle, and Grade 3-placed Visavis (a full sister to Wild at Heart).
Quotes from Santa Anita
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella: “After the scratches, the race got a bit easier. We were anxious to see what she could do on the turf, but I’ll take what happened here today.
“She impressed me today. She’s always tries to be a good mare but just wasn’t quite breaking through.
“This seems to be a good distance for her. She’s quick enough to sprint if you try that and she’s able to go little further as well. We just really needed to win a stake so I feel good about this.
“You know I’m partial to Flavien (Prat). To me, he looked great when he was 18 years old. I think he does make a difference. I think he’s one of the best that we’ve seen in a long time.”
Jockey Flavien Prat: “I had a good trip. She didn’t break very well but I got a good trip.
“The pace was fast but that’s the way it set up today. She won pretty easy though, she was much better today than last time out.
“I worked her before her last race and I felt she was much better today. I was pretty confident going into today.”