Remaining unbeaten in five starts at Santa Anita, Manistique was more impressive than the half-length margin of victory in Sunday's $200,000 Santa Maria Handicap would indicate.
Over a sloppy surface and carrying a top weight of 125 pounds, the oversized Unbridled mare prevailed over 13-1 shot Snowberg despite racing widest of all the final half mile.
Owned by Marshall Naify's 505 Farms and trained by John Shirreffs, the 8-5 favorite earned her 11th victory in 15 lifetime starts and is 11 of 12 in California. She completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 3/5.
Manistique will be favored to improve to 12 of 13 in her home state and defend her title in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap on March 5, a race she won by three lengths last year.
"I'm extremely proud of her because she didn't have the best of it weight-wise and she was squeezed coming out of the gate," Shirreffs said. "I'm very proud of all the people involved with her--our grooms, exercise riders, everybody.
"This is so rewarding because some people have been knocking her a little, so this is really nice because this is one of the best fields she's ever run against in California."
The victory was the third of the day for jockey Corey Nakatani, who leads the standings with 44 wins, 14 more than runner-up Kent Desormeaux, and his fourth in the last seven Santa Marias.
"I wanted to move her out of the dirt [hitting her in the face] and get her comfortable early and she settled real nicely," Nakatani said. "The track isn't that bad out wide today. I was still sitting on her around the turn and she just kept picking them up.
"She did slip a few times in the stretch and hesitated a little when she got to the track marks [left by the starting gate], so I got after her a couple of times late. She's just unbelievable."
Second to Manistique in the Bayakoa Handicap a couple of months earlier at Hollywood Park, Snowberg finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Gourmet Girl, then came Riboletta, Keeper Hill, Bordelaise, Potrizaris and Extended Applause.
Never worse than third in eight starts at Santa Anita, Snowberg will be back for another try in the Santa Margarita, according to trainer Paco Gonzalez.
"She ran really big," he said. "I'm very happy. We had the rail, so we had to send and use her a little bit. This is a nice mare and I think we've got a really good shot in the Santa Margarita."
Horse Racing Notes
Pico Tenerife rallied to defeat favored Dominique's Joy in the $75,000 Suwanee River Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Ridden by Jorge Chavez for owner Eugene Melnyk and trainer Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old Red Ransom filly paid $7.60 as she won for the sixth time in 16 starts. She completed the 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:47 4/5 and won by three-quarters of a length. Dominique's Joy, who was looking for her third consecutive victory for owner Madeleine Paulson and trainer Bill Mott, finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of 7-1 shot Crystal Symphony, then came Chaste, Circus Charmer, Seducer, Camella and Office Miss.
Beaten as the 7-10 favorite three weeks earlier, Take Note Of Me rebounded in the mud at the Fair Grounds, winning the $125,000 Whirlaway Handicap. Owned by Steve Holland and the estate of Barry Shipp and trained by Gene Cilio, the 6-year-old gelded son of Notebook won for the 10th time in 20 starts under jockey Robby Albarado. He paid $6 as the 2-1 second choice. Nite Dreamer, the even-money favorite in the field of six, finished third under jockey Shane Sellers.
High Tech Friend, the second longest shot in the field at 14-1, won the $100,000 Tanforan Handicap on a sloppy track at Bay Meadows. High Tech Friend overtook Wegotohaveharte, part of an entry, along with fifth-place finisher Alert And Ready that was the 4-5 favorite, in the final sixteenth of a mile. Ridden by Ron Warren for owners Terry Straeter and Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corporation and trainer Jeff Bonde, High Tech Friend won for the eighth time in 22 starts. He completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43 2/5 in a race that was originally scheduled for the turf.
Jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. had a streak of 10 consecutive racing days with at least one victory end Sunday at Santa Anita when he failed to win with his three mounts. . . . Jockey Frank Alvarado, who recently moved from Southern California to the northern circuit, had five winners at Bay Meadows. . . . Trainer A.C. Avila and jockey Omar Berrio combined for a double, winning the opener with Bienfeo and the fourth with 14-1 shot Bujones.