03/23/2014 6:12PM

Sunland Park: Awesome Baby gives Smith's many fans reason to cheer in Oaks

Coady Photography
Awesome Baby, ridden by Mike Smith, gives trainer Bob Baffert his fourth straight Sunland Park Oaks victory.

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – Sure, Awesome Baby looked like the best horse on paper in the Sunland Park Oaks on Sunday, what with her graded stakes wins in Southern California, but there was another reason she was the 1-2 favorite, and a large crowd welcomed her to the winner’s circle.

“I’ve got my whole family here,” said winning rider Mike Smith, a New Mexico native. “I hear there’s a record attendance. Half the grandstand is my family.”

They had plenty to cheer. Awesome Baby ($3) dominated her four rivals, leading from start to finish in a $200,000 race that offers 85 points towards the May 2 Kentucky Oaks, including a fat 50 to the winner.

Awesome Baby had won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez and Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita in her prior two starts. She was the only stakes winner in the field, let alone a two-time graded stakes winner. She coasted to a 4 1/4-length victory over Lucky for You and Empress of Midway, who finished in a dead-heat for second.

D’ya Knowwhatimean and George’s Peach completed the finish, in that order. Let Her Dance was scratched.

Awesome Baby looked like she was coasting early, but the official fractions were 22.81 seconds for the opening quarter, 45.87 for a half, and 1:10.02 for six furlongs. The mile split was 1:36.78, and the final time 1:43.80 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track.

“She kind of scrambled a bit leaving there, and then she got into her high cruising speed, which is her game,” Smith said.

Awesome Baby has now won 4 of 6 starts, including her last three. She is trained by Bob Baffert, who has won this race the last four years, and six times in its 14 runnings.

Awesome Baby, a daughter of Awesome Again, is owned by Kaleem Shah.