What looked like a two-horse race on paper played out that way on the track in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita.
Overcoming some traffic problems around the far turn, Balance, the 4-5 favorite, ran down 19-10 second choice Ermine near the wire to win the Grade I stakes race by half a length.
The victory was the fourth in five starts in Arcadia for Balance, a 4-year-old Thunder Gulch filly who is owned by John and Jerry Amerman and trained by David Hofmans. It was her third Grade I over the track. As a 3-year-old, she had won the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks.
Second in consecutive Grade I's in her first two races of 2007, Ermine finished 5 1/4 lengths in front of 12-1 shot River Savage, who offered little resistance after briefly taking the lead into the stretch.
Loaded with talented 3-year-olds, trainer Todd Pletcher won both of the significant Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday.
About 90 minutes after Cowtown Cat took the $200,000 Gotham at Aqueduct, 8-5 favorite Circular Quay rallied to win the $600,000 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Victimized by much trouble in his 2007 debut in the Risen Star on Feb. 10, Circular Quay, a Thunder Gulch colt, had no such traffic woes in the Grade II race Saturday and won going away by 2 1/4 lengths. Ridden by John Velazquez, Circular Quay, who now has four wins in seven starts, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.01.
In New York, Cowtown Cat, who was making his first start around two turns, ran past 13-1 shot Wafi City with less than an eighth of a mile to run and went on to a 2 1/2 -length victory.
Bobby Frankel became the winningest trainer in Santa Anita history when he won the third race on Saturday with favored In The Woods.
The victory was the 870th for Frankel in Arcadia -- not including Oak Tree -- enabling him to surpass Charlie Whittingham. Frankel won the next race, scoring with 9-2 shot Brilliant Cut. In the Woods and Brilliant Cut were ridden by David Flores.
In the other stakes at the Fair Grounds, 3-10 favorite Master Commander cruised to an easy win in the $485,000 New Orleans Handicap, 3-1 second choice Einstein took the $500,000 Mervyn Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap and California shipper Mistical Plan, a 7-1 shot ridden by Corey Nakatani, led throughout in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks for owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill.
Bwana Bull, the even-money favorite, won the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows over 9-2 shot Freesgood and five other 3-year-olds.... Desert Code, a 4-5 choice, won his second in a row, establishing a stakes record in taking the $106,600 Baldwin at Santa Anita.