For Chris McCarron, the choice was not an easy one.
If he went with Lady's Secret, he'd be giving up the ride on Love Smitten, with whom he had won both the Santa Maria and Silver Belles handicaps in her two most recent starts.
But if he chose to ride Love Smitten, chances were that Jorge Velasquez would come in to ride Lady's Secret, and the pair had combined for seven stakes victories last year.
There are few things more depressing to a jockey than to be beaten by a horse he's chosen not to ride.
McCarron and his agent, Scotty McClellan, talked it over and finally decided that McCarron would ride Love Smitten in Sunday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap.
"It was a difficult choice," McCarron said. "They're both good, but I felt that Love Smitten's races had been tougher."
Ten fillies and mares were entered Friday in the 1 1/8-mile Grade I invitational. Lady's Secret, who will be ridden by Velasquez, was assigned the high weight of 125 pounds, followed by Love Smitten, Videogenic and Dontstop Themusic, each at 122 pounds.
Videogenic arrived at Santa Anita three weeks ago from Gulfstream Park, where she won both the Suwanee River and Orchid handicaps. The 4-year-old filly will be ridden by her regular jockey, Robbie Davis.
Dontstop Themusic, meanwhile, will be ridden by Laffit Pincay and will be trying to rebound from a fifth-place finish in the Santa Maria Handicap Feb. 1.
Randy Winick, who trains the mare, is hoping that the main track will continue to improve over the weekend. The surface was rated as slow on Friday and, as Winick recalled, Dontstop Themusic didn't run well in the mud in the Santa Maria.
Videogenic's trainer, Gasper Moschera, is confident that his filly, who will be making her first West Coast start, can handle any surface.
"She runs on anything," Moschera said. "Whatever it is, it is. She can stalk them or stay a little back, depending on the situation."
What the situation is likely to be is a battle between Lady's Secret and Love Smitten.
Lady's Secret was one of the best 3-year-old fillies of 1985, winning 10 stakes for trainer Wayne Lukas. She started this year in equally impressive fashion, winning both the El Encino Stakes Jan. 18 and the La Canada Stakes Feb. 9.
Owned by Gene Klein, the filly will break from the inside post position, something Love Smitten's trainer, Eddie Gregson, believes is one key to the race.
"The horses to beat all have the same running style, to lay fairly close," Gregson said. "The post position will be a factor."
So, too, will weight, and if McCarron has recovered from the fever that forced him to take himself off his six mounts Friday, the three-pound advantage could be the difference for Canadian-bred Love Smitten.
McCarron won the Santa Margarita last year aboard Lovlier Linda.
The field, by post position and including jockey and weight:
Lady's Secret, Velasquez, 125; Vigor's Lady, Frank Olivares, 112; Johnica, Gary Stevens, 120; Videogenic, Davis, 122; Love Smitten, McCarron, 122; Shywing, Eddie Delahoussaye, 116; Palm Reader, Patrick Valenzuela, 114; Dontstop Themusic, Pincay, 122; Truffles, Fernando Toro, 116, and Reine Mathilde, Bill Shoemaker, 118.
Today's $100,000-added San Rafael Stakes has attracted a field of 11 runners, led by Ferdinand, Grand Allegiance and Dancing Pirate, each a stakes winner.
Also likely to challenge is trainer Bruce Headley's Variety Road. Darby Fair, which might have been a contender, prefers the mud, and the track was upgraded to good after Friday's eighth race.
Ferdinand, trained by Charlie Whittingham, won the Santa Catalina Stakes Jan. 29 by half a length over Variety Road. Grand Allegiance, third in the Santa Catalina, won the San Vicente Stakes Feb. 8.
San Miguel Stakes winner Dancing Pirate was third in the San Vicente.
Darby Fair, stablemate to Kentucky Derby hopeful Snow Chief, has been assigned the high weight of 122 pounds, three more than Grand Allegiance.
Horse Racing Notes Waitress Rita Garcia, who won $194,183.20 Thursday on a $2 Pick Six bet, collected her winnings Friday. Her formula? "One horse's trainer had the same name as a person I worked for 20 years ago. One was named Double Deficit, and I have a lot of those. One (Chucklecator) sounded like a laughing horse. My daughter is nervous, so I picked Nervous Baba in the eighth, and there was a horse with a Japanese name (Hatamoto), and I like waiting on Japanese people at the restaurant."
Trainer Wayne Lukas said that Angel Cordero will ride Roo Art in the March 2 Santa Anita Handicap. . . . Jockey Gary Baze will return to Longacres in Seattle to defend his riding championship there after Sunday's card. . . . Apprentice Eric Saint-Martin will lose his five-pound weight allowance after Sunday's program. . . . Gate Dancer, who missed last Sunday's San Antonio Handicap because trainer Jack Van Berg thought the horse wasn't ready, will work a mile Sunday in preparation for the $1-million Santa Anita handicap.
Precisionist, owned by Fred Hooper, has been assigned the high weight of 126 pounds for the Big 'Cap. Vanlandingham was assigned 125, with Gate Dancer and Proud Truth at 124. Greinton and Strawberry Road followed at 122.