01/02/2016 5:40PM

Forever Darling bounces back with victory in Santa Ynez

Benoit Photo
Forever Darling wins the Santa Ynez Stakes by a half-length Saturday at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The return to a sprint and to Santa Anita, softer company, and throat surgery proved a winning superfecta Saturday for Forever Darling, who wore down the favored Pretty N Cool and held off the previously unbeaten Code Warrior to capture the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Forever Darling ($10.20) was no match when pitched against Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland in her first start after defeating maidens. As trainer Richard Baltas noted before the race, she had a Llewellyn procedure after that race in the belief that she had displaced her palate. The Santa Ynez – run at the same distance and track as her maiden win – “didn’t come up as tough as it could for a Grade 2,” Baltas said, and she bounced back with a victory.

Forever Darling stalked Pretty N Cool through the opening furlongs, finally got past her in deep stretch, and was all out to stave off Code Warrior and prevail by a half-length under Rafael Bejarano.

“She doesn’t give up,” Baltas said. “She has a lot of fight.”

Pretty N Cool finished a neck back of Code Warrior in third, then came, in order, Treasuring, My Dynamo, One Last Shot, and Decked Out.

Forever Darling completed 6 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:16.25.

The win was worth 10 points toward a berth in the Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs, as well as a first prize of $120,000.

Baltas, coming off his best year yet as a trainer in 2015, owns one-third of Forever Darling and said that made the victory even more significant than training a Grade 1 winner.

“Me owning a Grade 2 winner, that’s kind of far-fetched,” he said.

Forever Darling, a daughter of Congrats, now has won twice in four starts. Baltas owns her along with A.C. Hebert and the J.K. Racing of John Manni.