September 26, 2023

Faiza remains unbeaten with clear-cut Santa Ysabel triumph

Faiza winning the Santa Ysabel S. (G3) at Santa Anita (Photo by Benoit Photo)

The Starlet (G1), the Las Virgenes (G3), and now the Santa Ysabel (G3). The victories just keep coming for Faiza, who picked up her third straight graded win (and her fourth victory from as many starts) when posting a decisive score in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel on Sunday at Santa Anita.

Only four other fillies opposed Faiza in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier worth 50-20-15-10-5 points to the top five finishers, and Faiza had already defeated three of them in the Starlet and/or Las Virgenes. The only newcomer to the fray was And Tell Me Nolies, winner of the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G2) last season but unraced since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

Bettors favored the recent hot form of Faiza, sending her off at 4-5, and the Bob Baffert trainee delivered with her most resounding stakes score to date. Whereas her Starlet and Las Virgenes victories came by narrow margins over Pride of the Nile, Faiza left no doubt about her superiority in Sunday’s contest, pressing Blessed Touch through splits of :24.00, :48.32, and 1:12.89 before edging away under jockey Flavien Prat to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:44.66.

“It seems like she is getting better, race after race,” Prat told Santa Anita. “I think the distance is not a problem for her. She’s a filly that has stamina so there is definitely improvement.”

And Tell Me Nolies raced in third place for much of the race before kicking on to snatch runner-up honors, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Blessed Touch. Stretch runners Justique and Pride of the Nile failed to factor while finishing fourth and fifth.

“She wins but she is still learning how to win, Flavien told me that she wasn’t going to win by a lot she does just enough,” Baffert said. “All the jockeys that have ridden her have said that there’s more in the tank and she gets it done. She’s got a beautiful mind, nothing bothers her and she’s sweet. She’s got a great personality.

“She’s never really been on the lead but she likes a target, something to run at. At Los Alamitos, (Pride of the Nile) came to her and I thought she was going to get beat and Prat told me there was just so much more left under the hood, she just gives you enough. There’s a lot more there which is good.”

The near-term future for Faiza is unclear. Since Baffert is currently suspended from racing horses at Churchill Downs, host track of the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Faiza is ineligible to compete in the Oaks (or earn qualifying points) and hasn’t been nominated to the rich spring prize. Faiza figures to aim for other targets, with the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (G2), May 19 Black-Eyed Susan (G2), and June 9 Acorn (G1) all possibilities.