03/09/2008 12:00AM

Nashoba's Key shows her class in Santa Margarita

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Sunday’s Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita was supposed to be a summit between top-class Nashoba's Key and unbeaten Zenyatta. But when Zenyatta scratched, Nashoba's Key dominated the proceedings in the meet's marquee event for older distaffers at 1 1/8 miles.

Nashoba's Key, owned by Warren Williamson and trained by Carla Gaines, chased pacesetter Dawn After Dawn through pedestrian splits of 50.03 seconds and 1:14.27 while biding her time under Garrett Gomez. She pounced on Dawn After Dawn entering the stretch, and then powered past that foe on her way to an easy 4 1/2-length win. Dawn After Dawn stayed on for second, three-quarters of a length in front of a rallying Double Trouble in a field shortened to five after the additional scratches of Down and Say You Will.

Nashoba's Key, now 5, ran the nine furlongs in 1:48.82 and paid $3 as the overwhelming favorite. The victory was Nashoba's Key's eighth from 10 starts and the winner's share of $180,000 pushed her career bankroll to $1,252,090.

"She’s gotten a lot better since I rode her last year," said Gomez."We were able to sit just outside her and I think that gave us our best opportunity to win. It’s great to be back on her."

"She seems to love both surfaces [turf and synthetic]," said Gaines. "That makes it easy to pick races for her. It was a beautiful race for her, wasn't it? She was sitting right where she should be. When he pushed the button, she exploded." Gaines added she wasn't sure what Nashoba's Key's next assignment would be.

Trainer John Shirreffs said Zenyatta had missed too much time training recently and wasn’t 100 percent ready for the Santa Margarita. He said he would point his unbeaten filly for the Hollywood Park meeting.