03/29/2012 2:23PM

Santa Anita: Oaks favorite Eden's Moon looks much the best

Shigeki Kikkawa
Eden's Moon goes for her second straight Grade 1 victory in the Santa Anita Oaks.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The progress that Eden’s Moon has made at Santa Anita this year has jockey Martin Garcia thinking of glory in the Kentucky Oaks in early May.

“She looks pretty good the way she’s been running,” Garcia said. “We’re praying that she stays sound and keeps improving. She had three starts and I think she will.”

Owned by Kaleem Shah, Eden’s Moon will be a heavy favorite to win her second consecutive Grade 1 race in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks over 1 1/16 miles. The Santa Anita Oaks is the championship race for 3-year-old fillies at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting and a key prep to the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

Earlier this month, Eden’s Moon won her stakes debut in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes over a mile, leading throughout and fighting off a sustained challenge from 6-5 favorite Reneesgotzip. Eden’s Moon pulled away in the final furlong to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Reneesgotzip was beaten for the first time in the Las Virgenes, a loss that left trainer Peter Miller furious. He lodged an objection against Eden’s Moon, arguing that Garcia struck Reneesgotzip with his whip in early stretch and that the winner was at fault when the two fillies bumped in the stretch. The stewards did not change the order of finish.

Reneesgotzip, who won her stakes debut in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes over seven furlongs here on Jan. 15, will wear blinkers for the first time in the Santa Anita Oaks, and is expected to set the pace. Garrett Gomez has the mount for the first time.

“The blinkers should keep her a little more focused,” Miller said. “She has a tendency to want to wander about. I imagine with the blinkers she’ll be forwardly placed.

“I think they are fairly evenly matched. It will be a good race.”

If Reneesgotzip is sent to the front, Eden’s Moon will race as a stalker, according to Jimmy Barnes, trainer Bob Baffert’s assistant.

“We’re not going head and head with Reneesgotzip,” Barnes said. “We’ll be just fine.”

The Santa Anita Oaks is the top race on a 10-race program that includes two $200,000 races for California-bred 3-year-old sprinters – the Evening Jewel and Echo Eddie Stakes. Because Eden’s Moon will be such a heavy favorite, the Santa Anita is run as the fourth race on the program, and is not part of the pick six, which begins in the fifth race.

Eden’s Moon breaks from the rail, with Reneesgotzip directly to her outside. Wins by the other three fillies in the field – Willa B Awesome, Bella’s Fantasy, or Conjure the Spirit – would be a surprise.

Willa B Awesome won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 28, and was later fourth in the Las Virgenes.

The Santa Anita Oaks will be the stakes debut for the maiden race winners Bella’s Fantasy and Conjure the Spirit.

Eden’s Moon is unbeaten in two starts this year, having won a maiden race over a mile by 11 1/2 lengths on Jan. 8. Her only career loss was a second to Reneesgotzip in a six-furlong maiden race on Hollywood Park’s synthetic track last December, the first start for both accomplished fillies.

“She’s been improving,” Garcia said. “The first time going on dirt, she galloped.”

Garcia is confident that Eden’s Moon can be effective as a stalker with the knowledge that she runs well when challenged.

“That’s the way she likes to run,” Garcia said. “She likes to fight.”