01/28/2012 7:49PM

Santa Anita: Chokecherymary rallies to victory in Valentine Dancer

Benoit & Associates
Chokecherymary, ridden for the first time by Corey Nakatani, secures her first stakes win in the Valentine Dancer.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Chokecherymary was once left behind at the start of a race at Hollywood Park in 2011 and declared a non-starter.

Saturday in the $100,000 Valentine Dancer Stakes at Santa Anita, she left six rival California-bred fillies and mares behind in the stretch of a one-mile turf race.

Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Chokecherymary ($18.80) won her first stakes in the Valentine Dancer, finishing in 1:34.42. The Valentine Dancer Stakes was the first time Chokecherymary was ridden by Nakatani, who benefited from the experience of riding her in a recent workout, trainer Gary Mandella said.

"She's a difficult filly to ride," Mandella said. "She has a light mouth. Corey was willing to come out and work her."

Chokecherymary was sixth for the first half-mile, well behind California Nectar, who set an early pace of 23.11 and 47.16 seconds. Halo Dolly, the 8-5 favorite, stalked California Nectar to the turn, challenged for the lead in the stretch, but faded late to finish fourth.

"She was a little too keen in the early part," said Joe Talamo, Halo Dolly's rider. "She had no excuse in the last quarter. They just outsprinted us."

Chokecherymary was still sixth with a quarter-mile remaining and closed well to finish half-length in front of California Nectar. "We had a little racing luck and everything went perfect," Mandella said.

Secret Cove finished third, followed by Halo Dolly, Bench Glory, Antares World and Warren's Got Game.

Chokecherymary has won 3 of 9 starts and $172,478 for owners Steve and Sue Woskow. Last April at Hollywood Park, she was entered in the Alphabet Kisses Stakes for California-bred maidens, but was not fully in the outside stall of the starting gate when the race started.

A 4-year-old filly by Capsized, Chokecherymary was second in the Cat's Cradle Handicap for California-breds at Hollywood Park on Dec. 11. The Valentine Dancer was Chokecherymary's first start in a one-mile turf race since a sixth-place finish  in an allowance race against open company here on Oct. 7.

"I wouldn't blame anybody for betting against her because of her last race at a mile" on turf, Mandella said. "She was never comfortable.

"She ran so well in the Cat's Cradle. She deserves a chance in this race."