05/17/2013 1:53PM

Hollywood Park: Railbird a sweet spot for Iotapa

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Shig Kikkawa
Iotapa put in a strong rally to win an optional claimer in February (above), then finished second in the Santa Anita Oaks.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – A second-place finish in the Santa Anita Oaks often leads to bold plans for a filly such as Iotapa. But this year, the Kentucky Oaks was just too tough.

“When it looked like the Oaks was coming up so strong, that is when I decided to go conservative,” trainer John Sadler said. “One other thing was, she only has three races. I didn’t want to throw her to the wolves.”

Not again, anyway. Iotapa stayed home to prepare for the $70,000 Railbird Stakes on Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park. The seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies drew six entrants. Iotapa, whose recent works over the track have been sharp, is the horse to beat.

“This is her home court,” Sadler said. “I think it’s a good spot.”

Iotapa faces a good field that includes Hail Mary, an allowance speedster; Tres Belle, whose winning debut received validation when the 2-3-4 finishers returned to win; and Ciao Bella Luna, recent upset winner of the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.

Sadler and owner Hronis Racing claimed Iotapa for $50,000 last summer, and three days after her debut victory she was found with a hairline fracture to a hind pastern.

“We had to stop on her,” Sadler said.

The injury healed, and Iotapa returned eight months later as an improved filly. She won an allowance comeback in February, after which Sadler defied tradition and entered her in the Santa Anita Oaks. It was only the third start of her career, and first at two turns.

It was a daring move, even if the Santa Anita Oaks field included just one standout. The potential upside was residual value for a future broodmare.

“Grade 1 placing is so huge,” Sadler said. “It was good planning.”

Iotapa finished second at 16-1 odds. But was it a good race?

“Somebody had to finish second behind Beholder,” Sadler admits. Still, Iotapa did finish a neck in front of Fiftyshadesofhay, a contender Friday in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico.

In the six weeks since the Santa Anita Oaks, Iotapa has posted a series of sharp workouts at Hollywood, and the filly enters as the most probable winner on the card under Joe Talamo.

Hail Mary is the one to catch. A front-running California-bred trained by Mike Mitchell, she has won 2 of 4, including a 9 1/4-length allowance romp three weeks ago.

Mitchell discussed strategy with Hail Mary’s jockey, Julien Leparoux, cautioning, “You don’t need to send her, she will send herself.”

Hail Mary benefits from the recent track profile at seven furlongs. Into Sunday, 6 of 8 races at the Railbird distance had been won by the pacesetter. Hail Mary is owned and was bred by Nick Alexander.

Tres Belle is likely to be positioned closest to Hail Mary and would get first run. Bob Baffert trains Tres Belle, who will be ridden by Martin Garcia. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Ciao Bella Luna, whose four sprints produced three wins and a second.