02/15/2009 1:00AM

Santa Teresita looking like a bargain


ARCADIA, Calif. - Last summer, Michael Moreno bought Santa Teresita privately at a time when the filly was only the winner of a restricted stakes at Santa Anita.

"We bought her for $25," trainer Eric Guillot said on Saturday.

Guillot was in a position to crack silly jokes. He was standing in the winner's circle after the $300,000 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita, moments after Santa Teresita's biggest win.

Ridden by Joe Talamo, Santa Teresita ($28.80) stalked pacesetter Briecat to the turn before pulling away from an accomplished field to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Santa Teresita ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.88.

Santa Teresita made the lead earlier than Guillot expected. "I told Joe, 'She doesn't want to be inside,' " he said. "I didn't want her to make the lead that early, but she was fresh."

Santa Teresita led by 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole and did not face a late challenge. Marzelline and Model finished in a dead-heat for second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Leah's Secret. Visit, the 3-2 favorite, never reached contention and finished sixth, 11 1/4 lengths behind Santa Teresita.

The race had eight starters. Country Star, a two-time Grade 1 winner in 2007, was scratched after becoming upset in the starting gate.

The Grade 1 Santa Maria was the biggest career win for Moreno and Guillot.

The race was Santa Teresita's fourth start for Moreno, who races under the name Southern Equine Stable. Last fall, Santa Teresita was third in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret and seventh in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, losing both races to champion older female Zenyatta.

In her only subsequent start, Santa Teresita finished last of 10 in the Grade 3 Tuzla Handicap on turf on Jan. 25 over a "good" turf course. Guillot dismissed the result because of the surface.

"She wants to be on a hard, firm course," he said. "With the three weeks back and the race under her belt, she was coming into the race perfectly."

A 5-year-old mare by Lemon Drop Kid, Santa Teresita has won 4 of 13 starts and $393,430.