01/28/2011 4:55PM

Switch stays at her best distance in Santa Monica


ARCADIA, Calif. – The winter stakes schedule at Santa Anita laid out perfectly for Switch – two Grade 1 races, four weeks apart, at seven furlongs.

“It’s a good distance for her,” trainer John Sadler said.

No kidding.

Switch crushed the La Brea on opening day, Dec. 26, winning the seven-furlong race by four lengths. It was the first of the three-race La Canada Series for fillies, but rather than stretch Switch to two turns, Sadler and owner Lee Searing decided to keep her short.

“Our choices were go the [Grade 2] El Encino-La Canada route or give her a month and keep her at seven furlongs,” Sadler said. “She’s obviously good at the distance.”

Besides, the seven-furlong, Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Monica for older fillies and mares on Sunday was straight ahead.

“It’s more money and a higher grade,” Sadler said.

The Santa Monica, however, is never an easy race for the La Brea winner. Since 1990, seven La Brea winners returned in the Santa Monica. Six lost, most of them at low odds. Island Fashion won both races during the 2003-04 meet.

Switch tries to buck history Sunday when she starts favored in the Santa Monica. It will not be the first time Switch has faced older. She gave 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta a scare finishing second in the Lady’s Secret at Hollywood Park in fall; Switch finished second to Dubai Majesty in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

There are no such rivals in the Santa Monica, which includes Bob Baffert-trained Mother Ruth and Gilded Gem.

“We’ve got speed and off the pace,” Baffert said, referring to front-runner Mother Ruth and closer Gilded Gem. Neither is graded stakes placed, yet.

Pica Slew returns from a six-month layoff; Sweet August Moon will be retired and bred, unless she runs well. Pinkarella has not raced since May; Quisisana finished third in her comeback. Mona de Momma, a Grade 1 winner for Sadler in her most recent start nine months ago, also entered.

With four wins and earnings of $632,600 from 11 starts, and sharp current form, Switch stands out. Sadler said she has trained well since her La Brea victory.

“She’s doing really well, she’s had three nice works, all with [Joel] Rosario,” he said.

After the Santa Monica, Sadler said “we’re going to run her long.”

He said the Grade 1 Santa Margarita on March 12 is a possible stretch-out spot for Switch.

“What’s not a possibility is the La Canada” on Feb. 13, Sadler said.

Switch and Rosario drew post 8 of 8.

Baffert-trained Mother Ruth and Gilded Gem finished one-two Jan. 7 in an overnight stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs. Mother Ruth is expected to dictate the pace, while Gilded Gem will rally late. The seven-furlong distance Sunday helps Gilded Gem.

“It helps her a lot,” Baffert said, “but she needs pace to run at.”

Gilded Gem and jockey Rafael Bejarano should get it. Mother Ruth, Pinkarella, and Pica Slew are expected to keep each other company up front.

Pica Slew has won 3 of 5, including a victory racing six furlongs in July at Calder for which she received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Scratched from the La Brea after drawing the rail, she makes her first start for John Shirreffs.

“She was great in Florida at six furlongs, we’ll see how she does at seven-eighths,” Shirreffs said. “It’s a tough spot, but she’s been training really well. She looks good and has plenty of works.”

Sweet August Moon, a Grade 2 winner with a career mark of 7 for 20, will be bred to Smart Strike if she does not return to form Sunday, according to trainer Brian Koriner.

The Santa Monica is race 7 on a nine-race card.