02/14/2015 7:56PM

Warren's Veneda goes last to first to win Santa Maria

Benoit Photo
Warren's Veneda wins the Santa Maria Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Jockey Tyler Baze was walking away from the winner’s circle after Saturday’s $200,750 Santa Maria Stakes when he gave an impromptu ranking of race winner Warren’s Veneda’s status.

“That’s the best mare in California right there,” he said, beaming with a smile.

With Beholder, the two-time champion, being prepared for a springtime comeback, Baze’s opinion was hard to challenge, at least Saturday.

Warren’s Veneda won the first graded stakes of her career in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes, closing from last in a field of eight to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Baze guided Warren’s Veneda wide on the final turn, took the lead with more than a furlong remaining and was not troubled in the final furlong.

A slight second choice, Warren’s Veneda ($5.60) ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.18, winning the third stakes of her career and second against open company. The victory gave trainer Craig Lewis a reason to point Warren’s Veneda for the $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes at 1 1/8 miles March 14, the leading dirt stakes for older fillies and mares at the winter-spring meeting.

Baze had Warren’s Veneda off the rail throughout the Santa Maria Stakes. Warren’s Veneda was four wide on the first turn and three wide on the backstretch, well behind the pace shared by Sweet Marini and Awesome Baby, runners owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert.

Sweet Marini and Awesome Baby were separated by a head after six furlongs, when Baze began to urge Warren’s Veneda toward the front. She circled her rivals to quickly take control of the race. While the win was convincing, the wide rally gave Lewis a few anxious moments.

“I’ve seen too many races,” he said. “It takes a good one to do that.”

Uzziel, the 52-1 longest shot in the field, finished second, a length in front of Thegirlinthatsong, the slight favorite at 8-5. Thegirlinthatsong won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies here Jan. 17.

Legacy finished fourth, followed by Valiant Emilia, Sweet Marini, Yahilwa, and Awesome Baby. All eight runners are stakes winners.

Warren’s Veneda was bred by owner Ben Warren in California. The 5-year-old mare is by the Unbridled stallion Affirmative and has won 7 of 21 starts and earned $587,612. She won the Cat’s Cradle Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park in 2013 and the minor Paseana Stakes against open company by 5 1/2 lengths on a wet-fast track Jan. 11.

In December, Warren’s Veneda was second by a head to Tiz Midnight in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Stakes at Los Alamitos. She closed from last of six in that field to lead in the stretch, only to be caught at the wire. The Bayakoa may be Warren’s Veneda’s best race, Lewis said.

“I’d say the race she ran at Los Alamitos was as good or better,” Lewis said. “I thought she should have won that with a better trip.”