Looking for a Longshot in the Santa Margarita

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 15th, 2018

Saturday’s $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park was supposed to feature the champion Unique Bella, who would have made the nine-furlong event exciting for racing fans but unappealing for bettors.

However, with Unique Bella skipping the race due to a minor illness, the Santa Margarita has suddenly become a wide-open event with a large field and plenty of options for bettors looking to make a nice score.

The new favorite figures to be #9 Mopotism, a distant runner-up behind Unique Bella in the Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita last month. Two starts back, the daughter of Uncle Mo scored a hard-fought victory in the one-mile La Canada Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, edging Mended and La Force in a three-horse photo finish, and as a three-year-old last year she competed from coast-to-coast in some of the nation’s biggest races and ran well against very tough fields.

But although Mopotism has a significant edge in class and experience, the Santa Maria marks her lone victory in the last year, and a case can be made that she’s at her best running a bit shorter than nine furlongs. I’m not sure that I want to play her on top at a short price, especially as the favorite.

Instead, I’m gravitating toward #7 Bishop’s Pond, who ships in from the East Coast off a decisive 5 ½-length win in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at Laurel Park earlier this year. Trained by Jason Servis, Bishop’s Pond has spent the majority of her career racing on turf, but is actually 2-for-2 on fast dirt tracks and didn’t run all that badly when fifth over a “good” track in the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) last fall—she was beaten just two lengths for second place. As a daughter of Curlin, running nine furlongs on dirt shouldn’t be an issue for Bishop’s Pond, an indeed, she’s won going as far as eleven furlongs on turf.

On paper, Bishop’s Pond is stepping up sharply in class, though the Santa Margarita hasn’t drawn the toughest field by Grade 1 standards and there could be an opportunity here for Bishop’s Pond to get out near the lead and take this field a long way on the front end.

Since this race looks like a wide-open event where almost anything could happen, I won’t get overly ambitious with exotics wagers. Instead, I’ll bet Bishop’s Pond to win and key her in the exacta with a few others:

$10 to win on #7 Bishop’s Pond $3 exacta: 7 with 6,9 ($6) $2 exacta: 6,9 with 6,7,9 ($8)

Good luck!