03/10/2011 5:51PM

California females second to none


Let’s hear it for the girls. No division is deeper this season in California than the one populated by older fillies and mares.

For $300,000 the very best of them – minus champion Blind Luck – will gather on Saturday at Santa Anita for the Santa Margarita Invitational and a chance to go down in history alongside names like Busher, Two Lea, Silver Spoon, Gamely, Gallant Bloom, Susan’s Girl, Tizna, Lady’s Secret, Bayakoa, Paseana, Azeri, and last year’s winner, Horse of the Year Zenyatta (aka Mrs. Bernardini).

Switch has dominated the conversation leading up to this year’s version of the nine-furlong race based on her arrogant wins in a pair of major seven-furlong events, the La Brea and the Santa Monica. Still, there is plenty of room to like St Trinians, who came back running in the Santa Maria, or Vision in Gold, who beat her on the square that day, along with Always a Princess, who has matured into a 4-year-old filly of substance.

The Santa Margarita is another one of those used-to-be-a handicaps. So it goes. The weights currently are based on certain amounts knocked off a maximum number for failing to win races at particular distances during specific windows of time. As a result, for all they have accomplished, none of the seven members of the field has earned the right to carry the highest possible weight of 123 pounds, based on winning a Grade 1 race at a mile or more at some time during the past six months.

This is amusing piece of fine print, especially when a race like the Santa Margarita draws almost exclusively from a Southern California pool of talent. Do you know how many Grade 1 races at a mile or more there have been out West for the division over the past six months? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


One of them, the Lady’s Secret, was won by Zenyatta. The other was the Matriarch, a grass race, won at Hollywood Park in November by Gypsy’s Warning.

Being otherwise occupied, neither mare was among those invited to the Santa Margarita. Of those who were, six got all the allowances and carry 118 pounds – including Switch, who drops five pounds off winning a handicap – while Always a Princess, winner of the El Encino and La Canada against 4-year-olds, carries 120. I say we give ‘em all 126 and give the racing secretary the rest of the day off.

During the course of his Hall of Fame career, there are not too many major races Neil Drysdale has neglected to win, particularly on the West Coast, where he has been based since he left Charlie Whittingham’s side in 1974. Despite training such mares as Princess Rooney and Bold ‘n Determined (both Hall of Famers), along with Hollywood Wildcat, Hail Hilarious, Gorgeous, Magnificent Lindy and the grass champion Fiji, Drysdale still has an empty spot in the trophy case with the Santa margarita’s name on it.

“I did not know that,” Drysdale said this week. “It’s all getting to be a bit of a blur.”

Somehow he’s managed to live with the disappointment. Horses like A.P. Indy and Fusaichi Pegasus helped, and there’s a plaque of his own in the Hall of Fame. Still, he wouldn’t mind adding the Santa Margarita to his collection, and he is in with a fighting chance on Saturday with the Argentinean mare Miss Match, a granddaughter of Drysdale’s other Hall of Famer, A.P. Indy.

Miss Match, by Indygo Shiner out of a Southern Halo mare, was purchased from her homeland by Bobby Frankel for Roy and Gretchen Jackson and made one start under Frankel’s banner at Saratoga in August of 2009. However, Frankel’s rapidly progressing illness at the time cast an uncertain pall over his bicoastal stable, prompting the Jacksons to send Miss Match to Michael Matz that autumn.

Beyond their common monograms, Matz and Miss Match got along fine.

“She’s an absolute delight to be around,” Matz said. “She always tried her hardest, whether she was as good as the horses she was in against or not.”

Miss Match never bagged a big one for Matz but she did hit the board in a couple of stakes and won a pair of allowances races. Among those she faced last year were Unrivaled Belle, Life at Ten and Miss Singsix while racing in New York, Florida and Delaware.

The Jacksons sold Miss Match at Keeneland last November for $500,000 to Australian interests. Enter Drysdale, now charged with enhancing her value before she goes off to be bred in the Southern Hemisphere later this year.

Drysdale got things rolling for Miss Match with an easy allowance win at Golden Gate in January then scratched her from the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria, won by Vision in Gold.

“She’s survived my training so far,” Drysdale quipped. “I felt the nine furlongs of this race would suit her better, and 10 furlongs even better than that. She did win the Argentinean Oaks – isn’t that a mile and a half?”

Actually, it’s 2200 meters, or about a mile and three-eighths, and officially named the Gran Premio Seleccion. But that’s nitpicking. Miss Match won it in November of 2008 to come to Frankel’s attention.

“She’s a strong, workmanlike filly with a lot of presence,” Drysdale said. “There’s lot of quality through her head. This may be a bit of an experiment on Saturday, but I think she’s got the potential to win some races here before she disappears off to Australia.”