01/23/2014 3:46PM

Santa Anita: Teddy's Promise tries to cap career with Santa Monica repeat

Benoit & Associates
Grade 1 winner Teddy’s Promise will defend her crown in the Grade 2 Santa Monica on Saturday to close out her career.

ARCADIA, Calif. – When the fairy-tale racing career of Teddy’s Promise ends Saturday at Santa Anita, owners Ted and Judy Nichols might shed a tear before they say goodbye.

“I’m already starting to get sad and tear up a little,” Ted Nichols said this week. “She was my first horse. I can’t believe how fantastic she has been.”

Teddy’s Promise, a 6-year-old, can top the million-dollar mark by winning the Grade 2, seven-furlong Santa Monica Stakes for female sprinters a second straight time. And it would be a fitting finale for the only California-bred in the lineup.

The $200,000 Santa Monica is race 4 on a card otherwise devoted to statebreds. The Sunshine Millions California Cup program includes five stakes, finishing with a pair of $250,000 races – the California Cup Turf Classic (race 9) and the California Cup Derby (race 10).

Teddy’s Promise faces six rivals in the Santa Monica – La Brea Stakes upset winner Heir Kitty, stakes-winning comebacker Iotapa, the allowance-caliber Scherzinger and Socialbug, and outsiders Winding Way and Lexington Pearl.

[California Cup Day: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

As for Teddy’s Promise, few would have imagined that she would become a Grade 1 winner with 11 victories and earnings of $882,397 from 28 starts. According to her trainer, Ron Ellis, she merely ran to her looks.

“As a physical specimen, I don’t think I’ve ever had a better-looking horse,” Ellis said. “She’s big, and she is perfectly balanced. She’s put together with absolute perfection.”

All of which could make her an exceptional broodmare. After her final start Saturday, Teddy’s Promise could leave Monday for Valkyre Stud in Kentucky. She will be bred to Smart Strike this spring and next.

If the broodmare career of Teddy’s Promise turns out as prosperous as her racing career for Nichols, watch out. Nichols, 75, was born in Pasadena, Calif., and frequently attended races at Santa Anita but did not decide to become an owner until 2007.

Rather than buy a racehorse, Nichols bought a broodmare. “My wife, Judy, encouraged me to do it,” he said. It was love at first sight when he inspected a Capote filly being sold by Golden Eagle Farm. “I turned to Judy and said, ‘I’m going to take her.’ ”

Braids and Beads already was in foal to Salt Lake, and Nichols was in her stall in the spring of 2008 when she gave birth to Teddy’s Promise. “We were there; we helped pull her out,” he said.

Nichols’s hopes were excessively high. “Watching her racing across the pasture, I said, ‘She’s going to be a champion.’ ”

The assessment proved accurate. He sent Teddy’s Promise to Ellis, and she gradually improved. Teddy’s Promise won a maiden race in her third start in 2010, scored a 16-1 upset in the Grade 1 La Brea in 2011, and over the next two years was a regular in filly-and-mare stakes in California, winning seven in total.

It looks easy, but it never was, according to Ellis and jockey Victor Espinoza.

“She’s always been a little headstrong,” Ellis said. “She’s a handful. She kind of does what she wants. We’ve learned to let her do her thing. Victor has done a great job understanding that he’s not going to make her do what she doesn’t want to do.”

In the Santa Monica, Ellis expects Teddy’s Promise to use her speed. From post 2, she will have to.

“I’m sure our plan will be to let her run out of there,” he said. “I think we’re just going to let her go. From the inside, that’s probably the best strategy.”