ARCADIA, Calif. -- Vale Dori and Finest City turned the Grade 1, $401,035 Santa Margarita Stakes into a match race on Saturday at Santa Anita, making their six rivals mere bit players, and the distance likely proved pivotal, as Vale Dori, accomplished at two turns, was able to turn back Finest City and win the meet's championship race for older females.
Vale Dori ($4.60) came into the race riding a four-race win streak, three straight in Grade 2 stakes going two turns at Del Mar and Santa Anita. Finest City had won two straight going seven furlongs, including the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, which brought her an Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter. But going 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Margarita, Vale Dori finished best through the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths, with Finest City 9 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Autumn Flower.
Lady Tapit was fourth and was followed, in order, by Estrechada, Wild At Heart, Perfect Pic, and Show Stealer.
Vale Dori completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.81.
Rafael Bejarano, who rode Vale Dori, said he was focused on getting her away from the gate cleanly from post 2.
"She was more focused today, more consistent. She broke beautifully from the gate," Bejarano said.
Bejarano said he thought Finest City, drawn just to his outside, might try to outrun him into the first turn under Tyler Baze, but "when I could see they weren't going to go, I just wanted to get my horse to relax."
He did. Vale Dori, with Finest City lapped on her, set moderate fractions of 23.50 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.23 for a half-mile. The late runners had no chance with that pace. Vale Dori and Finest City began to edge away from their rivals going around the far turn, and Vale Dori was the stronger of the two late.
"I just took control of the race and took it from there," Bejarano said. "She showed me a lot of power, a lot of heart."
Vale Dori, 5, was bred in Argentina and won a Group 1 race in her native land before embarking on an odyssey that took her to the United Arab Emirates before arriving in the United States and being transferred to trainer Bob Baffert nearly one year ago.
Under Baffert's care, she has won six times in eight starts, including her last five.
"She is getting better and better," Baffert said in a text from somewhere over the United States shortly after departing Saturday afternoon for Dubai, where next Saturday he runs Arrogate and Hoppertunity in the Dubai World Cup.
Vale Dori, a daughter of Asiatic Boy, is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. She has now won eight times in 13 starts. She earned $240,000 on Saturday to bring her lifetime earnings to $934,943.