01/24/2012 12:17PM

Santa Anita: Teddy's Promise can continue upward trajectory in Santa Monica

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Owner Ted Nichols and trainer Ron Ellis faced a pivotal decision last month when Teddy’s Promise was ready for the jump from optional claimers to stakes.

Should they try the filly in the Grade 1, $300,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Dec. 31, or take a seemingly easier route in the $75,000 Kalookan Queen Handicap against older females a day later?

Ellis conceded the decision to Nichols, and Nichols aimed high. He chose the La Brea.

“He left it up to me,” Nichols recalled last weekend, citing Teddy’s Promise’s strong training as the deciding factor.

The payoff was a career-defining win for Teddy’s Promise in her stakes debut, which has led to a start in Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Monica Stakes against older females at Santa Anita. The La Brea win has launched discussions about long-term plans for a try at another big-time sprint for fillies and mares at Santa Anita this year – the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November.

The way that Teddy’s Promise has performed in recent months, the Breeders’ Cup has become a reasonable goal, especially if she were to win her second straight Grade 1 in the Santa Monica.

“She’s getting to be a big girl,” Ted Nichols said.

Teddy’s Promise is the first horse that Nichols and his wife, Judy, have owned, fulfilling an interest they had for years. They even helped deliver Teddy’s Promise at Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, Calif., in 2008.

The couple has since expanded their racing and breeding operation. They still own Braids and Beads, Teddy’s Promise’s dam, and have added another mare. The Nicholses live in Oceanside, Calif., where they have an avocado and citrus farm. They also own a kennel in Orange County, and Ted Nichols is a judge at dog shows.

Ellis is Teddy’s Promise’s second trainer. She began her career with David Hofmans, winning a maiden race at 2 for him, but she struggled in stakes at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. Last spring, after Teddy’s Promise was given a 60-day break at Rancho Paseana, not far from Del Mar, Nichols decided to make a switch.

“I wanted to go in a different direction,” Nichols said. “I’ve known Ron and I like the way he trained.”

Ellis has changed Teddy’s Promise’s running style. Instead of being forwardly placed in her races, she races from off the pace. After finishing third and second in optional claimers at Del Mar, Teddy’s Promise began a winning streak in October that is still active. She won an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on Oct. 11 and a six-furlong race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25. In both races, the Ellis-trained Include Me Out finished second. Last Sunday, Include Me Out, owned by Samantha Siegel, won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies.

Ellis said his hesitation to commit Teddy’s Promise to the La Brea was caused by the presence of Turbulent Descent, a three-time Grade 1 winner.

“I had no qualms about how good she was doing,” Ellis said of Teddy’s Promise. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Turbulent Descent. I really thought she could have been filly sprinter of the year.”

In the end, Turbulent Descent was not a factor. She finished sixth, never threatening Teddy’s Promise, who won by 2 1/4 lengths. The margin of victory left Ellis surprised.

“She did it so powerfully,” he said. “It was a dominating performance. I would have been happy with a nose win.”

Teddy’s Promise was 16-1 in the La Brea, but will be a leading contender in the Santa Monica, along with Kalookan Queen winner Rumor.

The plan is for Teddy’s Promise to have a sprint-only campaign this year, Ellis said.

“I think we’re better off shooting for the Filly and Mare Sprint,” he said. “I’ve seen horses get ruined trying to stretch her out. With this filly, I’ll look for a big performance out of her next weekend and then back off her a little bit.”

For Nichols and his wife, having a Grade 1 winner who could become a Breeders’ Cup contender is far from what they expected the day that Teddy’s Promise was born.

“It’s just so unbelievable,” Ted Nichols said. “To be there from the beginning to help take her out and to get to this point is unbelievable.”