04/03/2014 12:17PM

Santa Anita Oaks: Ria Antonia seeks first clear-cut stakes win

Tom Keyser
Ria Antonia will look for her first first-place stakes finish at Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ria Antonia can reach a career milestone in Saturday’s $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks that she has yet to achieve – finishing first in a stakes.

Last fall, Ria Antonia finished second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita and was promoted to first when She’s a Tiger was disqualified for a bumping incident in deep stretch. The result cast Ria Antonia at the fore of the nation’s 3-year-old filly division for 2014. She did little to enhance her position with a fourth-place finish Feb. 22 in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Following that race, owners Christopher Dunn and Looch Racing sent Ria Antonia from trainer Jeremiah Englehart to Bob Baffert in California. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks will be Ria Antonia’s first start for Baffert. Since arriving in California, Ria Antonia has recorded a series of fast workouts through March in advance of the Santa Anita Oaks, run over 1 1/16 miles.

“She came in good shape, and I’ve kept her the way she was,” Baffert said. “All I hope is she’s ready. She’s going to run a good race.”

Ria Antonia, by Rockport Harbor, has won two of six starts and $1,164,140. Aside from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, she won a maiden race at Woodbine last summer by six lengths when trained by Ricky Griffith.

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For the Santa Anita Oaks, Ria Antonia will race without blinkers. She did not wear blinkers in her first four starts, including losses in three stakes – a fifth in the My Dear and a fourth in the Swynford at Woodbine and a fifth in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park.

Mike Smith will ride Ria Antonia for the first time in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Ria Antonia is one of two Grade 1 winners in the field, joined by Fashion Plate, who has not raced since winning the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes over a mile here Feb. 1. Fashion Plate led throughout the Las Virgenes over a mile, leading by two lengths on the backstretch and winning by a half-length over Streaming, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes last December.

Gary Stevens will ride Fashion Plate. Last month, Stevens planned to ride Ria Antonia, and Smith was booked on Fashion Plate, an arrangement reversed last week.

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The Santa Anita Oaks has a field of eight, including the stakes winners Arethusa, who won the Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood Park last November and was third in the Las Virgenes, and Bajan, the winner of two sprint stakes for 2-year-old fillies last fall. The field also includes Artemis and Smoove It, who have placed in stakes. Bajan and Smoove It were supplemented to the race for $8,000 Wednesday.

The outsiders Kissin Lucky Lips, a maiden, and Honey Ride, who beat maidens March 2, are the other runners.

Fashion Plate races for Michael Tabor and Arnold Zetcher. Trained by Simon Callaghan, Fashion Plate beat maidens in her third career start over six furlongs Dec. 29.

Fashion Plate has led in her last two races and will be prominent again in the Santa Anita Oaks, which will be the longest race of her career. The distance is not a major concern for Callaghan.

“It’s hard to find that out in the morning,” Callaghan said. “She did well to go to the stakes from a six-furlong maiden to a mile Grade 1. That gives you confidence she’ll get the extra distance. She doesn’t have to lead. We’ll be on or close to the lead.”