Paradise Woods Finds Best Form Again in Santa Margarita S. (G1)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

It took longer than expected, but Paradise Woods is once again looking like her 3-year-old self.

The multiple grade 1 winner waltzed into the winner's circle for the first time in more than a year and a half as she took charge on the final turn and romped home a 10 1/2-length winner over La Force in the $200,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (G2) for fillies and mares April 27 at Santa Anita Park. 

Paradise Woods was foaled and raised at Hidden Brook Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

"I had a great post (7 in a field of seven). I left her and stayed as still as I could and let her get that big, beautiful stride of hers going," jockey Mike Smith said. "Once she did that, she had the race under control." 

Control, and then some. The 5-year-old mare owned by Steven Sarkowsky, Martin J. Wygod, and Pam Wygod looked every bit the monster she was in 2017 for trainer Richard Mandella when she won the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) by 11 3/4 lengths and defeated older females by 5 1/4 lengths in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1), a Sept. 30 race named after the fabulous mare trained by her new conditioner, John Shirreffs. The Zenyatta was Paradise Woods' most recent victory before Saturday. 

"She used to run against Unique Bella a lot, and, honestly, they are very similar," Smith said about Paradise Woods. "It was too bad they had to race against each because they would knock each other in the head. So I basically rode her like I used to ride Unique Bella." 

Meaning, Smith rode Paradise Woods ($3.20) with all of the confidence befitting a 3-5 favorite. A Kentucky-bred daughter of Union Rags, Paradise Woods dueled with Just a Smidgefor the early lead through fractions of :23.37 and :47.35. Midway on the final turn, Paradise Woods forged to the front and took all of the suspense out of the race as she powered to an eight-length lead at the eighth pole and cruised from there.

The victory was the first in three 2019 starts for Paradise Woods. She was third in the Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) and fifth in the Santa Monica Stakes (G2). The beaten favorite in the 2017 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), she has four wins in 14 starts, with earnings of $945,890. For Smith, it was his first ride aboard Paradise Woods and an auspicious debut, to say the least. "Sometimes," he said, "the first ones are the best ones."

Earlier that afternoon, Stakes winner Big Handsome ran third in the Elusive Quality S. at Belmont Park. The Street Boss colt was sold by Hidden Brook Farm for $250,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton October Yearling sale. 

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