When Blind Luck, one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country, and 18-1 long shot Evening Jewel hit the wire virtually simultaneously in Saturday’s $250,000 Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, the 1-5 favorite’s jockey was sure who had won.
“As soon as we crossed the wire, I knew we had won it,” Rafael Bejarano, who enjoyed a riding triple on the day, said of Blind Luck.
Sure enough, when the photo sign came down, it was Blind Luck who got the nod by the slimmest of noses for her fifth victory in seven races. It was her first start since a seven-length frolic in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20.
But as sure as Bejarano was about the victory, one of the filly’s owners, Mark DeDominico, and the trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, were not quite as confident.
“Jerry said she got it, so I wanted to believe him,” said DeDominico, who didn’t think his filly was going to be able to make up what was at one point a nine-length deficit down the backside.
“This track is a little biased,” he said. “I thought it was going to be really tough down the lane for her to close that kind of ground on the outside. Sort of reminded me of the Breeders’ Cup all over again. It was the same problem — inside was fast and outside was slow.”
Said Hollendorfer: “I’ve watched a lot of photos, and the first time I wasn’t sure, but the second time I thought we won, and I’m glad we did.”
Hollendorfer thinks the Las Virgenes’ one-mile distance is probably too short for the Pollard’s Vision filly, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on Nov. 6.
“I think truthfully we’re looking for a little more distance for this filly,” he said. “I think she will be better with longer distance.”
That longer distance will come in her next scheduled start, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on March 6, Santa Anita Handicap day. The Oaks is 1 1/16 miles and figures to set her up well for the Kentucky Oaks, run at 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby.
Hollendorfer, who also owns part of Blind Luck, said his partners asked him to nominate the filly to the Triple Crown races, even though he said he has no plans to run her in the Derby.
“I willingly did that,” he said. “I’m not thinking that way, but at least we have that in case some opportunity presents itself.”
Blind Luck ran the mile in 1:35.98 after chasing the slow fractions of 24.31, 48.41 and 1:12.59 set by the pacesetting Switch with Tyler Baze aboard. Switch faded to third, losing second by a half-length to the runner-up.
It was a tough defeat for James Cassidy, who trains Evening Jewel, the filly who looked like a winner every step of the way but the final jump. And even then, it looked she might have held on.
“That’s as tough as it gets,” Cassidy said, adding that he thought his filly had won when she hit the wire.
The three-victory afternoon for Bejarano helped him open a 44-29 lead over second-place Victor Espinoza in the jockey standings as he attempts to become the first rider since Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1979-81 to win three consecutive Santa Anita jockey titles.