03/13/2014 12:50PM

Santa Anita: Iotapa's speed a big asset in Santa Margarita

Shigeki Kikkawa
Iotapa, winning the Grade 2 Santa Maria, can become a Grade 1 winner in the Santa Margarita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Iotapa went to the front early in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita last month and ran the best race of her brief career.

She may be equally dangerous from the front in a better field in Saturday’s $350,000 Santa Margarita Stakes over 1 1/8 miles. The Grade 1 Santa Margarita is the championship race for fillies and mares of the winter-spring meeting, and trainer John Sadler said he’s expecting another strong race from Iotapa.

“What you like about her is she’s very steady,” he said. “I think she’ll be forwardly placed. She can take the lead or be second.”

[DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from DRF writers and handicappers this Saturday]

Owned by Hronis Racing, Iotapa will start in the longest race of her career in the Santa Margarita. She is one of five graded or group stakes winners in the field, joined by Fiftyshadesofhay, Miss Serendipity, Spellbound, and Stanwyck. Let Faith Arise won a stakes at Pleasanton last June, while Macha and Yahilwa have yet to win stakes.

Iotapa was claimed for $50,000 from a maiden race over 4 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park in June 2012, her only start that year. She proved to be a steal when she finished second to champion 3-year-old filly Beholder in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks last April and later won the Railbird Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters.

After a third in the San Clemente Handicap on turf last July, Iotapa won the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes over seven furlongs here Jan. 25 before winning the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria. Sadler said he is not concerned about the added distance of the Santa Margarita.

“She looked good at the end the other day,” he said.

Iotapa would be helped if her main pace rival, Miss Serendipity, is scratched in favor of Sunday’s Grade 2 Santa Ana Stakes on turf, which is likely, according to trainer Ron McAnally.

The Santa Margarita distance should not be an issue for Fiftyshadesofhay, a three-time stakes winner trained by Bob Baffert. Fiftyshadesofhay won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Pimlico last May and was second to the outstanding Princess of Sylmar in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes over 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga last August.

Fiftyshadesofhay was beaten a length when fourth to Spellbound in the La Canada Stakes on Jan. 19.

“I think she ran a little flat,” Baffert said.

Spellbound returns in the Santa Margarita off her La Canada Stakes win. Trainer Richard Mandella held Spellbound out of the Santa Maria to give the 4-year-old filly more time to be prepared for the Santa Margarita.

“She’s trained better since her last race, and she’s had some time,” Mandella said.

While Iotapa races near the front, Spellbound will be at the back early, which can be a source of anxiety for Mandella.

“It’s kind of what she does,” he said. “She makes a game out of it. I want to see her there at the finish. She can get there any way she wants.”

Jerry Hollendorfer starts Let Faith Arise and Macha. Let Faith Arise, who won the California Wine Stakes at Pleasanton last June, was second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Iotapa, in the Santa Monica. She was beaten a neck by Spellbound in the La Canada.

Macha was third in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap on turf at Hollywood Park last June, her only stakes placing in her four stakes starts.

Stanwyck was third in the Santa Maria after a slow start. She won the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Belmont Park last October for her first stakes win.

“She comes from a little off the pace,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “I think one of these days she’ll win one of these races.”