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HORSE RACING

Ventura toys with rivals at Santa Anita

The Breeders' Cup star opens her 2009 campaign with a victory in the Santa Monica Handicap.

February 01, 2009|Eric Sondheimer

Thoroughbred racing in California is all about the talented females these days, and one of those elite mares is Ventura, a 5-year-old daughter of Chester House who won the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita by one length over her stablemate, Jibboom.

Runner-up to Indian Blessing for the Eclipse Award for female sprinter, Ventura toyed with her five opponents, taking the lead in midstretch to win the $300,000 seven-furlong race in 1:21.61 as the 3-10 favorite.

There was so much money wagered to show on Ventura -- $376,465.60 -- that it resulted in a minus pool of $71,493.65. She returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10 to show.

How good is Ventura?

Trainer Bobby Frankel admitted, "I didn't really train her that hard" for the race. But she has won five of her eight races under jockey Garrett Gomez since arriving from England early last year.

"She was traveling beautifully for me," Gomez said. "It felt like I had a loaded gun the whole time. The only reason I had to get into her a little was that when she makes the lead, she thinks her job is done."

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode the Frankel-trained Jibboom, said, "My horse ran good. She was in a perfect spot. But I saw Ventura right behind. She was flying at the end. She's tough."

Ventura has earned a place among a group of fillies and mares based in California that have become superior to their male counterparts, whether it's Zenyatta, the Eclipse Award winner for older mares, Stardom Bound, the Eclipse Award winner for juvenile fillies, or Indian Blessing, whose connections decided to pass up Saturday's race.

"California always had good fillies," Frankel said. "Then we went through a period they weren't good. Now they're strong again. There's a lot of champions."

Ventura, the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner, also deserves to be considered a champion, Frankel said. "She didn't get crowned, but she's a champion in my book," he said.

Frankel intends to let Stardom Bound make her 3-year-old debut next Saturday in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita.

Trainer John Shirreffs said Zenyatta, runner-up to Curlin for Horse of the Year honors, is unlikely to race at Santa Anita. He said Zenyatta has started to gallop at Hollywood Park but no firm plans have been made when she'll make her 2009 debut.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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