ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 31, 2010) – After faring poorly as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade I La Brea Stakes five weeks before, Gabby’s Golden Gal dramatically rebounded with an 11-1 stunner in Sunday’s 53rd running of the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap for fillies and mares to provide 25-year-old jockey Martin Garcia with his first Grade I victory.

After tracking the early pace set by Free Flying Soul and Czechers, Arnold Zetcher’s homebred 4-year-old filly closed strongly in the middle of the track to defeat hard-charging 2-1 favorite Proviso by 1 ¼ lengths. Gabby’s Golden Gal ran the seven-furlong distance in 1:21.25.

It was the first time Garcia, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, had ridden the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and added a glorious chapter to the union between Garcia and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Almost overnight it seems, Garcia has become a mainstay in the saddle for Baffert, winning his first five rides at the current Santa Anita meet for the famous trainer. With the Santa Monica triumph, Garcia has ridden 18 winners for Baffert from 55 mounts.

“I want to dedicate my first Grade I to Bob,” Garcia said after dismounting from Gabby’s Golden Gal. “He’s giving me a lot of chances.”

The young jockey reviewed his journey. “It’s an amazing thing what she did today,” he said. “Last time (when ridden by Mike Smith in the Dec. 26 La Brea), she needed the race and she was rank.

“Bob (Baffert) said the main thing today was to make her relax, and then make my move. Today, I had an opportunity to keep her outside of those two speed horses, and she relaxed very well. When I asked her, she just took off.”

Proviso, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, finished well after emerging from behind rivals in the stretch to get the place by 1 ¼ lengths over Free Flying Soul and jockey Smith. Czechers, who had yielded the early lead to Free Flying Soul, held on for fourth another 1 ¼ lengths back with Chantal Sutherland in the saddle.

The Grade I victory was the second for Gabby’s Golden Gal, who often does the unexpected. She captured Belmont Park’s Grade I Acorn Stakes last June at odds of 13-1 before showing little at 5-2 in the Grade I Prioress at Belmont. She subsequently went to the sidelines for 5 ½ months before returning in the La Brea.

“She just needed the race,” Baffert said. “I thought she was training well enough to win it, but she just laid an egg that day. Today, I was just hoping she didn’t go too fast. She picked up the bit. Last time when she went to make the move, Mike (Smith) said she was just empty, so she just needed the race.

“Mike was committed to the other filly (Free Flying Soul), so I thought I’d give Martin a chance, and he came through. This filly has always shown me signs of greatness, like Indian Blessing. That’s why we were just baffled after the La Brea.”

Gabby’s Golden Gal rewarded backers with payoffs of $25.20, $10.80 and $6.80 in the Santa Monica. Proviso returned $4 and $3. The show price on Free Flying Soul was $3.60.

The winner’s share of $150,000 elevated the earnings of Gabby’s Golden Gal to $499,405 from a record of 4-1-1 in nine career starts.

Santa Anita will be dark on Monday and Tuesday prior to the beginning of a five-day racing week on Wednesday with an eight-race program that starts at 1 p.m.