Oaks Prep: After Missing Santa Ynez With Fever, Talented Justique Returns In Saturday's Las Virgenes - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Oaks Prep: After Missing Santa Ynez With Fever, Talented Justique Returns In Saturday’s Las Virgenes

Justique and jockey Victor Espinoza win the $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes, Saturday, November 19, 2022 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar CA. © BENOIT PHOTO

With a come-from-behind style that leaves her backers on the edge of their seats, C R K Stable's Justique, idle since Nov. 19, heads a field of six sophomore fillies going a flat mile in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

The Las Virgenes is the first leg in the 1/ST Coast to Coast Pick 5, a $1 wager with a player friendly 15 percent takeout on a series of five races between Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park.

Additionally, the Las Virgenes winner will receive 20 qualifying points to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 5, with eight, six, four and two points going to the second through fifth place finishers.

A $725,000 Keeneland September Yearling, Justique is by 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify and is out of the Bernardini mare Grazie Mille. Trained by John Shirreffs, Justique rallied from last to take her 5 ½ furlong debut by 2 ½ lengths July 31 at Del Mar and was subsequently third when stretched out to a mile and one sixteenth in the G2 Chandelier Stakes here on Oct. 8.

In her best race to date, Justique again rallied from last under Victor Espinoza to win the seven furlong Desi Arnaz Stakes by 2 ¼ lengths at Del Mar on Nov. 19. Justique was entered in the G3 Santa Ynez, rescheduled to Jan. 8 after weather-related cancellations, but Shirreffs scratched the filly when she developed a fever. Now recovered and having posted works on Jan. 13 and Jan. 21, Justique will be trying two turns for the second time in what will be her fourth start on Saturday.

Although Justique will no doubt command a good deal of attention on Saturday, Bob Baffert's Faiza, idle since winning the G1 Starlet going 1 1/16 miles at Los Alamitos Dec. 10, has plenty of natural speed and should be extremely tough to beat as she tries to remain unbeaten in her third start.

Purchased for $725,000 out of a 2-year-old in training sale in May of last year, Faiza, who is by Girvin out of the Smart Strike mare Sweet Pistol, is owned by Michael Lund Petersen. With Flavien Prat out of town Saturday to ride at Gulfstream Park, Ramon Vazquez will ride Faiza for the first time.

Faiza is ineligible for Las Virgenes qualifying points toward the Kentucky Oaks because of Baffert's two-year suspension by Churchill Downs, stemming from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory because of a medication violation. The case is under appeal.

A winner of two out of her first three starts, all on turf, Doug O'Neill's Pride of the Nile, who despite stumbling at the break, ran a huge race when second, beaten a head by Faiza in the G1 Starlet, rates a huge chance with Juan Hernandez back aboard. Now that she's established she can act on dirt as well as turf, Pride of the Nile, who earned a 77 Beyer Speed Figure in the Starlet, will likely stalk the early pace in what will be her fifth career start.

By Pioneerof the Nile and out of the Hard Spun mare Inny Minnie, Pride of the Nile is owned by West Coast Stables, LLC.

Along with Faiza, O'Neill's Broadway Girls also figures to ensure a fast pace. A gate to wire one mile maiden turf winner two starts back on Nov. 13, she then took the one mile turf Blue Norther Stakes here on Dec. 30 in the same front-running fashion.

Well beaten in her only dirt try, a 5 ½ furlong maiden race on Aug. 21 at Del Mar, Broadway Girls, who is owned by Stanley Cup champion defenseman Erik Johnson's ERJ Racing, LLC, Pappas Horse Racing Corp and Neil Haymes, will be making her fifth career start in the Las Virgenes.

Graded stakes-placed in her last two races, trainer Michael McCarthy's Uncontrollable will be ridden for the first time by Kazushi Kimura, who will be seeking his third added money win at the current meeting.

An even third, beaten 5 ½ lengths by Faiza in the G1 Starlet Dec. 10, Uncontrollable was second, beaten just three quarters of a length at 24-1 in the G2 Chandelier Stakes here on Oct. 8.

Owned by Repole Stable, Uncontrollable is a California-bred filly by the Flatter stallion Upstart and is out of the Include mare Behavioral. A first-out winner going five furlongs versus statebreds on July 22, Uncontrollable, in her second start, was second going six furlongs in the California-bred Generous Portion Stakes Sept. 5.

With a win, two seconds and a third place finish from four starts, Uncontrollable will hope to be rolling from off the pace.

THE GRADE 3 LAS VIRGENES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER

Race 2 of 9 Approximate post time 1 p.m. PT

  1. Faiza—Ramon Vazquez—124
  2. Sweet Trouble—Kent Desormeaux—120
  3. Broadway Girls—Edwin Maldonado—124
  4. Pride of the Nile—Juan Hernandez—122
  5. Uncontrollable—Kazushi Kimura–120
  6. Justique—Victor Espinoza—120

First post time for a nine-race card on Saturday is at 12:30 p.m.

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