PRESUMPTIVE ECLIPSE WINNER BLIND LUCK A WELL-BEATEN SECOND TO BAFFERT’S ALWAYS A PRINCESS IN GRADE II EL ENCINO

ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 16, 2011) – Blind Luck, a virtual cinch to be named 2010’s champion 3-year-old filly at Monday’s Eclipse Award banquet, came up short in her 2011 debut Sunday when unable to catch streaking Always a Princess in Santa Anita’s Grade II, $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

Unraced since rallying for second behind victorious Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, Blind Luck unleashed her usual closing kick in the 47th El Encino, but Always a Princess, who despite the fact she had pressed a fast pace, had plenty left in the tank under Rafael Bejarano. She defeated runner-up Blind Luck by 3 ½ lengths. The final time was 1:41.47

The result extracted a measure of revenge for Arnold Zetcher’s homebred daughter of Leroidesanimaux who had succumbed to Blind Luck in the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes in 2009 as well as in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita when fifth behind Blind Luck’s third.

On Sunday, Always a Princess engaged Champagne d’Oro for the lead, discouraged the latter rounding the far turn, and quickly drew clear. Blind Luck, ridden by Joel Rosario, was as many as nine lengths behind while running last through the backstretch. In the end, the separation was too much to overcome.

It was the first time in the 16-race career of Blind Luck – which includes nine wins, five of them in Grade I competitions – that she had ever been more than 1 ¾ lengths behind at the wire.

Bob Baffert, who trains Always a Princess and whose Indian Firewater had captured Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds by a nose over stablemate Tweebster, remained on vacation after having celebrated his 58th birthday on Thursday.

Sent off at odds of 7-10 in her 2011 debut, Blind Luck finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of 29-1 shot Fashion Trend in a field reduced to five starters by the scratches of It Tiz, Life Well Lived and Our Georgia.

The winner, who was the 7-2 third choice, paid $9.80, $3.40 and $2.80. The prices on Blind Luck were $2.40 and $2.10. Fashion Trend, ridden by Victor Espinoza, paid $3.40 to show. Malibu Pier, the 5-2 second choice with Garrett Gomez aboard, was never a factor and wound up a well-beaten last.

“I tried to be on the lead,” Bejarano said after dismounting from Always a Princess. “I sent my horse really hard in the beginning. When I saw the No. 1 (Joe Talamo on Champagne d’Oro) rush his horse, I decided to put my horse right next to him. I didn’t want to stay behind him, but next to him, because my horse has a stronger kick.

“When I saw the No. 1 getting tired, I decided to give my horse a little breather before coming to the stretch. After that, I just let her run and she showed me a big kick.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer and co-owner of Blind Luck, had little to say. “If she got beat, it’s because of my training,” he commented. The El Encino marked the third successive runner-up finish for the comebacking filly who has earned over $2.4 million. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup loss by 1 ¾ lengths, she was nodded by a neck in the Grade II Cotillion at Philadelphia Park.

For Always a Princess, the win was her fourth in eight starts and the winning purse of $90,000 increased her career earnings to $426,048.

Santa Anita concludes a three-day holiday weekend on Monday with the 59th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf. The nine-race Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program begins at 12:30 p.m.

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