After drawing off from This Tea by 9 1/4 lengths in the April 24 Santa Margarita (G2), 2-5 favorite As Time Goes By was desperate to fend her off in Saturday’s $196,000 Santa Maria S. (G2). The Coolmore partners’ blueblood just got the bob of the nose as This Tea gave her all she could handle at Santa Anita.
Trained by the embattled Bob Baffert, who is temporarily suspended by Churchill Downs and New York Racing Association tracks, As Time Goes By is a daughter of American Pharoah and multiple Grade 1-winning Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady.
This Tea is no slouch in the pedigree department either, being by Curlin and out of well-bred Grade 1 vixen Funny Moon. She hadn’t run up to those bloodlines yet, and accordingly was overlooked as the 23-1 longest shot in a four-horse field.
Grade 1 veteran Ce Ce was expected to be the biggest danger to As Time Goes By. Yet the 3-2 second choice broke a bit awkwardly and had to be scrubbed along in a stalking third.
As Time Goes By, in contrast, was away in good order from the outside post. Taking up a perfect tracking spot with Hall of Famer Mike Smith, she kept watch on pacesetter Miss Stormy D through fractions of :23.83 and :47.12.
Although As Time Goes By grabbed the lead nearing the far turn, favorite backers had to feel anxious when she didn’t open up through the six-furlong mark in 1:10.95. Miss Stormy D fought back briefly on the inside before retreating.
As Time Goes By tried to edge away in upper stretch, only to face a stronger challenge from This Tea. Anchored at the rear of the quartet early, This Tea pounced on the favorite inside the final furlong. For a few strides, she appeared on the verge of an upset, but As Time Goes By gamely dug in to prevail in 1:43.77 for 1 1/16 miles.
The top two pulled eight lengths clear of Miss Stormy D in third, and Ce Ce trailed. Last First Kiss was scratched.
This was the closest This Tea had gotten to As Time Goes By in four meetings. She was meeting As Time Goes By on better terms, in receipt of four pounds from the 126-pound highweight, but that factor alone wouldn’t account for the form turnaround. This Tea produced a career-best effort while As Time Goes By appeared to regress.
Baffert chalked up the tight finish to As Time Goes By’s preparation between races.
“I told Mike, we’ve been going easy on her, not too hard for this race,” the Hall of Famer told Santa Anita publicity. “Today, this is the first time she’s come back really blowing. That filly that ran second (This Tea) ran a big race. (My filly’s) heart and true grit made her hang in there. We knew Miss Stormy D was quick, and you could tell turning for home that my filly wasn’t doing it that easily.”
Smith credited This Tea for making it close while invoking an NBA analogy:
“With me, it’s always get away good. I really feel that every step counts, and the most important one is the first one and the last one. So you certainly want to take advantage of those two and we were able to jump really well, sit at a nice pace. They ran good you know, my hat’s off to the filly that finished second (This Tea), she ran a huge race. The Lakers don’t always blow every team out, every now and then you gotta fight one out, and that’s what she had to do today.
“She’ll get more out of this race. After she ran so well last time out, they kind of backed off her a little bit. She’s a big mare with a big frame and she’ll tend to gain some weight and I could tell she was a little more stocked today. She got a little tired, but she’ll get a whole lot out of that.”
As Time Goes By sports a record of 7-4-2-1, $380,600. Unraced until the second half of her sophomore year, the dark bay was a slow-starting third on debut and then second to stablemate Himiko. As Time Goes By broke through next time at Los Alamitos Dec. 13 and made it two straight in a Jan. 17 Santa Anita allowance, where she drubbed This Tea by nine.
Runner-up to champion Swiss Skydiver in the March 13 Beholder Mile (G1), As Time Goes By left This Tea nearly five lengths adrift in fifth. This Tea took a step forward to finish best of the rest in their Santa Margarita rematch, but couldn’t lay a glove on her until Saturday. As Time Goes By had turned in a pair of five-furlong moves since that April 24 race, drilling in :59.80 on May 8 and 1:00.40 on May 15.
Baffert is now focused on the Breeders’ Cup.
“Right now, with the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, we wanna keep her here and run her here in the fall.”
Bred under the Orpendale and Chelston banner in Kentucky, the homebred is the third graded winner for Take Charge Lady. As Time Goes By is a half-sister to champion Will Take Charge and Grade 1 hero Take Charge Indy, both sires. Another half-sibling, Charming, is responsible for champion Take Charge Brandi as well as multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Omaha Beach.