When Kirstenbosch nipped 8-5 favorite Ganadora at the wire in Sunday’s $200,500 La Canada (G3), she scored a new career high for herself as well as a memorable victory for jockey Kazushi Kimura. The Woodbine ace was earning his first trip to the Santa Anita winner’s circle – literally, for Kimura played a key role in the result.
Longtime leader Ganadora appeared to put herself in the winning position. Despite being restless in the gate and not too well away, the favorite scrambled to the front through splits of :23.12 and :47.18. She met with a stiff challenge from Angel Nadeshiko passing six furlongs in 1:11.55, and found herself headed turning for home. But Ganadora came again, put her nemesis away as both decelerated in the stretch, and edged clear.
Then Kirstenbosch arrived on the scene. Trained by John Sadler, the Keith Abrahams homebred was only within hailing distance because of Kimura’s relentless ride. The Eclipse and Sovereign Award-winning rider had been busy keeping her engaged throughout. Although Ganadora and Angel Nadeshiko got away from her at one point on the far turn, Kirstenbosch’s steady momentum built up again upon straightening. If she hadn’t been in touch on the backstretch, she would have had too much ground to make up down the lane.
Ganadora was super-game in trying to live up to her name. Responding to the new threat posed by Kirstenbosch, she found extra while coming out and bumping her rival. Kirstenbosch flinched for an instant, possibly being struck by John Velazquez’s inadvertent whip, then shrugged it off as she dueled to the line. Ganadora reached with all her might, but her nose wasn’t down when it counted.
Kirstenbosch won the bob, and if she hadn’t, the late contact might well have attracted the stewards’ attention. The daughter of Midnight Lute, who went off as the 3.30-1 third choice, completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.19 and returned $8.60.
Ganadora, enduring the very definition of a tough beat, had 2 3/4 lengths to spare over the rallying Smoothlikebuttah. Angel Nadeshiko retreated to fourth. Under the Stars, Ganadora’s stablemate from the Bob Baffert barn and the 1.90-1 second choice, attended early but was beaten before the far turn and eased her way home. Natural Colour, never in it, was likewise eased.
Kirstenbosch was coming off a third in the Dec. 26 La Brea (G1), where Ganadora and Under the Stars were fifth and seventh, respectively. The stretch-out from seven furlongs was expected to help the Baffert pair, but it suited Kirstenbosch even better, especially with the contested pace to soften up Ganadora.
“It feels so amazing, my first win here and in a Grade 3 – it’s amazing,” said Kimura, Woodbine’s leading rider in both 2021 and 2022. “She’s always a bit lazy. She always needs like a little bit of pushing. At the half-mile last time I rode her, in the La Brea, it was a seven-furlong race and I was just pushing her to the wire. Today, I was more confident to say she would show up better than last time.
“John (Sadler) has given me opportunities since opening day. I’m really happy to win for him and I really appreciate it.”
Sadler wasn’t there in person to receive Kimura’s gratitude. The horseman was tuning in from London, the site of the Longines World Racing Awards ceremony on Jan. 17. Sadler’s recently-retired phenom, Flightline, is in line for top honors.
Deputizing at Santa Anita was his assistant, Juan Leyva, who credited Kimura’s smart ride.
“He just rode her beautifully; he tried hard until the end,” Leyva said. “He is a really nice kid. I’d like to see him really get going because he is so polite and he’s a good rider too…Hopefully, this will open up some eyes and he can get a lot more opportunities.
“When she started running, I thought she was going to win by at least half a length, but then it looked like when she got to Ganadora, she kind of just hung with her, and this filly just tends to do that. She does just enough to win. She’s never been one to just pull away, so that’s the only thing I was afraid of…But she got the job done so that’s the main thing. I’m really happy for Keith because they have been long-time clients of John and they are just good people.”
Kirstenbosch has compiled a mark of 10-3-3-1, $334,480. The dark bay broke her maiden going 1 1/8 miles on turf, upending eventual American Oaks (G1) winner Rhea Moon. She cut back to a dirt sprint, the Angels Flight S., and finished second. Kirstenbosch’s other stakes credit was also a runner-up effort as the favorite in the Nov. 22 Zia Park Oaks.
The Kentucky-bred is a half-sister to Grade 2-placed stakes winner Constantia. Their dam is the Grade 3-placed Belong to Me mare Llandudno.