10/11/2014 9:16PM

Velvet Mesquite overcomes rough start to win California Distaff

Benoit Photo
Velvet Mesquite overcame a rough start Saturday to win the California Distaff Handicap at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. – When Velvet Mesquite broke slowly in Saturday’s $101,250 California Distaff Handicap at Santa Anita, jockey Mike Smith was far from panicking.

Velvet Mesquite, who stands nearly 17 hands, needed several strides to gain momentum but had enough to take the lead.

“When she slipped like that, it took a few jumps,” Smith said of her early start.

Velvet Mesquite was in front when the field reached the right-hand turn on the hillside turf course. She used that advantage to lead down the hill, over the crossing, and through the stretch to win her first stakes.

Smith’s confidence soared when Velvet Mesquite took the lead on the hillside.

“I had a big gap, and she just took it,” he said. “She was within herself.”

Trained by Blake Heap for Harris Farms, Velvet Mesquite ($7.40) won by a half-length over the 4-1 Heat Trap, running about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf in 1:12.39. Go West Marie, a 9-1 shot, was third, followed by Smoove It, Tribal Spy, Warren’s Veneda, Star Field, Qiaona, Ciao Bella Luna, and Twelve Folds.

Velvet Mesquite was favored.

Velvet Mesquite, a 4-year-old filly by In Excess, has won 5 of 9 starts and earned $240,606. Velvet Mesquite made her stakes debut in the California Distaff Handicap for statebred fillies and mares. Saturday’s race was her first start since a sixth-place finish in an optional claimer over six furlongs on the Polytrack synthetic surface July 17 at Del Mar.