Updated on 09/18/2011 12:23AM

Balance takes Las Virgenes

Balance wins the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - With Folklore's status in question, and Wild Fit still unproven around two turns, Balance has emerged as the West Coast's leading contender for the Kentucky Oaks. She ascended to that position on Saturday at Santa Anita, when Balance out-finished Wild Fit to take the Grade 1, $250,000 , this track's major prep for next month's Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

Balance got a perfect trip from jockey Victor Espinoza. She sat third while Diplomat Lady and Meetmeinthewoods blazed through early fractions of 22.16 seconds, 45.72 seconds, and 1:09.98 for the first six furlongs. Balance moved up three paths wide on the far turn to take the lead, and had plenty left to hold safe Wild Fit and win by one length.

Wild Fit, the 2-1 second choice, finished 2 1/4 lengths in front of third place Itty Bitty Pretty after rallying from last. Dance Daily, who won last month's Santa Ynez Stakes at the expense of Folklore, finished last in the field of seven.

Balance ($7.20) completed one mile on the fast main track in 1:36.54. She has now won three times in five starts, her only losses coming when she was second in the Hollywood Starlet, and when she was disqualified from victory in a controversial decision following the Hidden Light(CQ) Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

The Las Virgenes was the first start of the year for both Balance and Wild Fit.

"We gave her time off because we gave her those races so quickly," said trainer David Hofmans of Balance's four-race campaign last fall. "She had a couple real tough races, so we thought we better skip one, give her that extra month, and let her grow up.

"She's a stronger, smarter, calmer filly," said Hofmans, who trains Balance, a daughter of Thunder Gulch, for owners John and Jerry Amerman.

"Today she was more relaxed," said Espinoza, who has ridden Balance in her last four starts. "She acts now like I can do anything with her."

Both Hofmans and Patrick Biancone, who trains Wild Fit, indicated their fillies would return in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on March 12.