Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap
The Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (previously known as the Santa Margarita Stakes) is a prestigious Grade 1 race for fillies and mares that is held typically every March at Santa Anita. The race coincides with the historic Santa Anita Handicap (G1), a top race for older males that is also held in Arcadia, California. Since the inaugural running in 1935, the Santa Margarita has attracted some of the greatest champions in Thoroughbred racing. Currently, the race is held contested at a mile and an eighth over Santa Anita’s newly renovated dirt main track.
The Santa Margarita has undergone several changes since the debut edition in 1935. The race was originally open to horses of either gender and became restricted to just fillies and mares in 1938. While the current distance is nine furlongs, the distances have varied over the years from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. Santa Anita’s surface has also changed significantly in recent years switching from conventional dirt to synthetics then finally back to dirt again.
Throughout the history of the Santa Margarita, there have been three jockeys who hold the record for the most wins with six each – Hall of Fame riders Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Chris McCarron. Shoemaker won the race with Special Touch (1951), Bed O’ Roses (1952), Cerise Reine (1954), Straight Deal II (1966), Turkish Trousers (1972) and Sanedtki (1979). Pincay won with Miss Moona (1967), Manta (1971), Susan’s Girl (1973), Princess Karenda (1981), Ack’s Secret (1982) and Bayakoa (1989). McCarron was aboard Glorious Song (1980), Lovlier Linda (1985), Bayakoa (1990), Paseana (1992 and 1994) and Twice the Vice (1996).
Only one trainer holds the title for the most wins and that is California main-stay Ron McAnally. Though McAnally began his career on the East Coast working at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire, some of his greatest successes came in California. He has saddled six winners of the Santa Margarita. In 1989 he sent out the champion Bayakoa (ARG) to victory and they returned to win in 1990 as well. In 1992, champion Paseana (ARG) won and she returned in 1994 to claim the race again. McAnally also won with Queens Court Queen (1995) and Toda Una Dama (1998).
There have been many champion mares who have used the Santa Margarita as a stepping stone to award-winning campaigns. Few have been as popular as the winner of the 20101 edition, Zenyatta. Making her first start since defeating male rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) the previous November, the big bay mare started off her six-year-old season in style with a 1 ¼ length victory in her trademark off-the-pace style.
Santa Margarita Handicap Betting Odds
When a 5-2 favorite like Warren’s Veneda wins a race like the 2015 Santa Margarita, followed by a 3-1 second choice in the form of Dame Dorothy, horseplayers know that although they may have handicapped the race correctly, they can’t expect a big payout on a straight wager or exotic. But those payouts can be increased when the bet is placed through an online racebook like Bovada, which tops up the return with 3% cash back on straight wagers, and 5% cash back on exotics.
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2017 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap Contenders
In the 2016 Santa Margarita the primary question for even-money favorite Taris was one of distance. Could the former sprinter stretch out to a mile and an eighth effectively? After sitting off the pace under jockey Gary Stevens, Taris collared the front-running Penwith around the final turn, but appeared to be tiring as Penwith re-rallied in the stretch. Still, Taris was able to put away that rival with a sixteenth to go, but could not withstand the grinding rally of Tara’s Tango, who ran by the favorite to earn a one-lenght victory at the wire. The winner, sent to post at odds of 5/2, earned the first grade 1 victory of her career.
2016 Order of Finish: Win Place Show
1st: Tara’s Tango $7.20 $3.00 $2.40
2nd:Taris $2.40 $2.10
3rd: Living the Life $3.00
(Also Ran: Penwith, Moyo Honey; Scratched: All Star Bub, Lavender Chrissie)
Check back closer to race day for 2017 Santa Margarita contenders!