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UNZIP ME DETHRONES HILLSIDE QUEEN GOTTA HAVE HER WITH FRONT-RUNNING WIN IN GRADE III LAS CIENEGAS HANDICAP
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 11, 2010) – High-flying 4-year-old filly Unzip Me sped to her fourth straight victory Sunday while unseating Santa Anita’s reigning “Queen of the Hill,” defending champion Gotta Have Her, in the 36th running of the Grade III, $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap for fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs over the track’s hillside turf course.
The second choice at 7-2 in a field of seven with Joe Talamo at the controls, Unzip Me took command soon after the start. She led throughout before crossing the wire 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Czechers with even-money favorite Gotta Have Her another three-quarters of a length back in third. The winning time was 1:12.80.
It was the third straight win over the course for the chestnut filly trained by Marty Jones and her fourth in a row in a turf sprint after beginning her career with a modest 2-for-7 showing.
Gotta Have Her, meanwhile, had rung up four straight victories over Santa Anita’s unique downhill layout before a much troubled trip against males when second in the $909,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint likely cost her a fifth victory.
In her first start since the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, Gotta Have Her broke a bit awkwardly under Tyler Baze, but appeared to recover quickly while settling into fifth place.
Unzip Me, meantime, had established a clear lead while racing through fractions of 22.56, 45.24 and 1:06.83. She lost a bit of momentum when hopping slightly as the field crossed the main track. She proceeded to open up three lengths on her rivals before a bobble in deep stretch, but Unzip Me still won with authority under a vigorous hand ride.
“She’s relaxing so much better now,” said Talamo. “She had her ears straight up the entire race today, nice and relaxed.” The 20-year-old rider said he knew Czechers was close “because we were going so slow.” Talamo continued, “So around the turn, I wanted to open up just a little to get some breathing room. I threw her a few crosses through the lane just to keep her focused. Her last few races have really been remarkable.”
Jenine Sahadi, who trains Gotta Have Her, thought her mare was compromised by the awkward start.
“We were always pretty high on her,” said Jones, a co-owner who conditions Unzip Me for partners Harris Farms, Per Antonsen and Donald Valpredo. “As soon as she got on the grass, even when we worked her on grass, it was like, ‘Whoa, this filly’s different on grass.’
“I was real concerned about running her back (since winning the Irish O’Brien Stakes over the course by a head on March 20). It was kind of a last-minute decision because that last race was real hard on her.
“But the last few days before entries (were taken for the Las Cienegas), she just started acting like herself and going like herself again, so I decided we should go for it again. She just loves running down that hill so much, I said we better try and take advantage of this while we can.”
The winner, who carried 118 pounds, paid $9.60, $5.20 and $3. Czechers, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, returned $5.80 and $3.20. Gotta Have Her, the 123-pound high weight, paid $2.10 to show.
The winning purse of $60,000 inflated the career earnings of the California-bred daughter of City Zip to $279,700 from an overall record of 6-2-1 in 11 starts. She was bred by John Harris and Donald Valpredo. For the 38-year-old Jones, Unzip Me was the sixth stakes winner he had saddled at the meet.
After dark days on Monday and Tuesday, Santa Anita commences the final week of its winter/spring meeting on Wednesday with an eight-race card that begins at 1 p.m.