03/10/2011 2:30PM

Santa Margarita can put Switch on top


ARCADIA, Calif. – For a few moments on a Saturday afternoon last October, the impossible, or at least the highly unexpected, seemed on the verge of occurring: Zenyatta, 18 races into her unbeaten career, trailed Switch by three lengths with a furlong to go in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret Stakes at Hollywood Park and the champion wasn’t making ground on the 3-year-old filly.

“For five or 10 seconds, it looked possible,” recalls Lee Searing, who owns Switch.

“We got a lump in our throat in midstretch,” says trainer John Sadler.

Switch’s lead dwindled through the final 200 yards, and she lost by a half-length to Zenyatta. A month later, Zenyatta, later named 2010 Horse of the Year, lost by a head to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Switch ran second the preceding day in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, but has not lost since. Wins in two Grade 1 sprints over seven furlongs this winter – the La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies in December and Santa Monica Stakes against older fillies and mares in January – have thrust her toward the top of the older female in division in California.

Another victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita would clinch a position at the top.

“Ever since we took her to the Breeders’ Cup, she’s been bigger and strong,” Searing said. “That’s because of John’s training, too. We’ll need that if we’re to get the mile and an eighth and be competitive.”

Switch has won 5 of 12 starts and $782,600, and her success, which includes four stakes wins, is not a complete surprise. Both Sadler and Kentucky-based bloodstock agent David Ingordo, who also selected Zenyatta as a yearling in 2005, saw long-term promise in Switch when she was offered at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale.

“David called and said, ‘I think I’ve found a horse,’ ” Searing remembers. “Both he and John said she’ll get bigger and stronger as she gets older.”

Searing, who turns 63 on Tuesday, bought Switch for $150,000. The filly’s development has been the latest success for his CRK Stable, which he owns with his wife, Susan. Their biggest prize to date is the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in 2004 with Our New Recruit.

Switch won her debut at Hollywood Park in December 2009, and placed in three graded stakes in her next four starts, including a third to Blind Luck in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes. She upset Blind Luck in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks last June, her sixth start, and by then had changed from a filly who raced on the lead to one capable of stalking the pace.

“She was kind of a leggy filly when she was young, and she had a big frame,” Sadler said. “You thought with time that she grow into a good-looking mare. They don’t always work out that way. This is one that worked out really well.”

After a troubled fifth in the San Clemente Handicap on turf at Del Mar, Switch won the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar on Labor Day weekend to set up the matchup with Zenyatta.

Switch was a 4-1 shot against Zenyatta in a field of five in the Lady’s Secret. Ridden by Alonso Quinonez for the first and only time, Switch was third on the backstretch, second on the turn, and took the lead in early stretch, holding an advantage of 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole over the longshot Moon de French. Zenyatta was still third at that point, and the mare everyone was watching.

While Switch did not hold off the champion, the loss left her team satisfied with the effort.

“We were more proud than disappointed,” Sadler said. “We were second to the best horse in training with a 3-year-old filly that was on the upswing.”

Switch followed the loss with a game second to Dubai Majesty five weeks later in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, a race that proved Switch’s mental durability, Searing said.

“Sadler was somewhat concerned if you look Zenyatta in the eye that you’d never be the same again,” he said. “She’s better than she was early on.”

As for the Breeders’ Cup, Searing thinks that’s a race that got away. Switch was beaten 2 1/4 lengths after being stuck in traffic on the turn.

“The more we watch that race, the more we think she might have won,” he said. “We enjoyed the whole thing and she ran a great race.”