Paradise Woods, named a ‘TDN Rising Star’ after an impressive maiden score last out, went out to the front in the early stages of the GI Santa Anita Oaks and never looked back, crushing a half-dozen foes in a powerhouse performance and signaling herself as a force to be reckoned with in the sophomore filly division.
Well-bet when finishing second after setting the pace on debut here Jan. 26, the bay graduated by open lengths Mar. 11 to earn her Rising Star nod and the door opened for this Grade I try when overwhelming favorite Unique Bella (Tapit) had to be taken out of consideration with a sore shin.
Off sharply at a generous 8-1 in this first two-turn test, Paradise Woods shook off a brief early challenge from Princess Karen (Stay Thirsty) and found herself comfortably in front leading the field onto the backstretch. Clicking off modest splits of :23.46 and :47.35, the bay was moving sweetly while in hand on the far bend as others behind her were under drives. Suddenly putting six lengths on her rivals soon after straightening for home, it was only a question of how far from there, as Paradise Woods coasted under the wire all by herself while wrapped up late. Odds-on favorite Abel Tasman completed the exacta after a difficult trip in her first start for trainer Bob Baffert. The winning margin was the biggest in Santa Anita Oaks history, eclipsing Silver Spoon’s 10-length victory in 1959.
“I’ve always been high on her,” said winning rider Flavien Prat. “From the first time I worked her, I said, ‘That one is really good.’ She’s so smart. If you teach her something she remembers it the next day; it sticks. She’s super small, she’s fast and she has stamina. She’s so good. It’s an honor to rider her, truly.”
Victorious trainer Richard Mandella, who picked up his third Santa Anita Oaks trophy, added, “She looked like she was just cruising out there. At the half mile pole, she was going easy. She took my breath away. It means a lot to win for (Herman) Sarkowsky. He was an owner with me for 38 years. I was thinking of running her short tomorrow in the Santa Paula, but when Unique Bella scratched, I thought we should take a shot. I thought she was as good as these fillies and she showed it today. She is a young filly.She has only had three starts, so we’ll see about the Kentucky Oaks and how things develop. She was really nasty to saddle today, but she ran great.”