10/05/2012 3:25PM

Santa Anita: L.A. Woman a doorway to Breeders' Cup for Winding Way

Shigeki Kikkawa
Winding Way wins the Rancho Bernardo despite a poor start. She could go in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint with a victory in Sunday's L.A. Woman Stakes.

ARCADIA Calif. – Winding Way was not a lucky little lady in the city of Del Mar.

When the undefeated filly broke last from the rail as the favorite in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo, trainer Carla Gaines’s mood changed from glad to sadness.

“I was just hoping to hit the board,” she said.

Winding Way, a front-runner, faced a seemingly impossible task. Then she did what good horses do – overcome adversity. Last on the turn, she rallied to an improbable victory that established her as one of the top female sprinters in California after just three starts.

That reputation is on the line Sunday at Santa Anita, where Winding Way headlines the inaugural $100,000 L.A. Woman Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong dirt race named after the 1971 hit song by popular rock band The Doors.

Gaines and owner B. Wayne Hughes believe Winding Way can deliver again in the L.A. Woman on Sunday afternoon. The 3-year-old is likely to be odds-on against three rivals – Rumor, Great Hot and Lady of Fifty – in a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 3.

The sprint appears so one-sided it was buried early in the card, race 3. However, there are no slam dunks in racing, and Gaines acknowledged Winding Way might not be at her absolute best in first start since returning from Del Mar to her Santa Anita base.

“She came here and was fine, and then one day her foot was on fire,” Gaines said.

A foot abscess disrupted her training. After a Sept. 12 work, she did not breeze for 13 days.

“She missed a work, and she missed some training,” Gaines said.

Does it matter?

“I don’t know,” Gaines said. “My whole intention is to get a race over the track, and hope she takes to this as well as she stakes to the synthetics.”

Based on slow workout times, one could question if the daughter of Malibu Moon might prefer synthetic. But this fall on the Santa Anita dirt track, slow work times are normal. It surprised Gaines, at first, when Winding Way barely shaded 48 seconds for a half-mile.

“A horse like her, last year over this track, would work 46 and gallop,” Gaines said. “Now she goes 48. The track is so slow, it will freak you out. It’s 10 lengths slower.”

Winding Way recovered from the foot abscess, sports back-to-back five-furlong moves, and with a clean start should be the controlling speed under Rafael Bejarano.

Rumor, a two-time stakes winner, finished third in the Rancho Bernardo after a slow start. She has enough speed to be forwardly placed early under Mike Smith. Great Hot finished second in a minor stakes last out at Fairplex Park, while Lady of Fifty has a career-high Beyer of 81.