03/10/2011 4:02PM

Santa Anita just the spot for Always a Princess

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ARCADIA, Calif. – This winter at Santa Anita has been a perfect season for Always a Princess.

Racing over a track that favored front-runners, she was the easy winner of the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes in January. A month later, she won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes after setting a slow pace. Blind Luck, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2010, was second in both races.

Those two races have left Always a Princess among the top older fillies and mares at Santa Anita, but one facing a more difficult task in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes over 1 1/8 miles.

The distance will not be a problem for Always a Princess, who races for breeder Arnold Zetcher and trainer Bob Baffert. The La Canada was run over 1 1/8 miles.

It’s the competition in the field of seven that poses a greater threat. While Blind Luck is off to Oaklawn Park for the Azeri Stakes on March 19, Always a Princess must beat Switch, who has won two Grade 1 stakes over seven furlongs at this meeting, and Vision in Gold and St Trinians, who finished first and third in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes on Feb. 12.

“It will be a test to see how she handles everything,” Baffert said. “A lot of horses get in the zone, and she’s in the zone right now.

“She’s always shown that talent. She’s been handling the distances well.”

Always a Princess will be near the lead, too. “You can’t change her style,” Baffert said.

Such a scenario would result in a top-class stalking pack. Vision in Gold, who won her first stakes in the Santa Maria, showed a new dimension by leading throughout the Santa Maria in a 5-1 upset. Switch, who won the La Brea Stakes in December and the Santa Monica Stakes in January, has developed from a frontrunner to a stalker in the last year.

“I think she’s just getting good, mentally,” trainer John Sadler said.

Switch will race over 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Santa Margarita, but Sadler is confident she can handle the distance after winning the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks over 1 1/16 miles against Blind Luck last June. “With a 3-year-old filly that wins over 1 1/16 miles, going another sixteenth at 4 should be a problem,” Sadler said.

“We like what we did this year. We knew what we wanted to get done and we got the Grade 1. It makes sense to go to the routes.”

Switch and St Trinians have never met, but they both gave Zenyatta a scare during her 2010 Horse of the Year campaign, finishing second by a half-length to the champion in Grade 1 races last year at Hollywood Park – St Trinians in the Vanity Handicap in June, Switch in the Lady’s Secret Stakes in October.

St Trinians had the rest of the year off after the Vanity, and was third beaten three-quarters of a length in the Santa Maria Stakes, her first start in eight months. Trainer Mike Mitchell thinks that race will have St Trinians ready for the Santa Margarita.

“I don’t think the race set up for her,” he said. “She needed a good run under her belt and she got it. There should be a good pace for my mare. I’m really excited about it.”