The Grade 2, $200,000 Buena Vista Stakes at Santa Anita Park drew a field of 10 female turf milers but the race goes through Vasilika, one of the biggest success stories of 2018. Claimed for $40,000 in February of last year, Vasilika earned $623,328 while winning nine of 11 races including eight in a row, three of which were graded stakes. Her streak was broken at the end of the year when fourth in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes in December but she enters the Buena Vista off a win in the Grade 3 Megahertz Stakes over the course last month and on paper is the one to beat.
In the Megahertz, Ms Bad Behavior finished second while Zaffinah finished third, and both are back in an attempt to post the mild upset. Take These Chains ships in from the Louisiana winter base of excellent trainer Brad Cox and possesses a 4-for-6 record on turf so may have a say in the outcome. The speedy Fahan Mura won seven of 11 in 2018 including the Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes but in her two meetings with Vasilika she was no match, ending up second in one and third in the other. Amandine won the Lady of Shamrock Stakes at the distance in December before third- and fifth-place finishes, the most recent when well beaten by Vasilika in the Megahertz. Another previous stakes winner is Elysea's World, previously trained by Chad Brown in the east and now in the barn of Richard Baltas. Winner of the Grade 3 Violet Stakes in September and the Grade 3 Matchmaker Stakes in July, Elyseas's World returns to the races following four months off and an eighth-place effort in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes. Compelled has won a couple of stakes on turf in her career but is winless in six starts since her victory in the Mardi Gras Stakes one year ago. English Dancer and Streak of Luck round out the field.
Although Vasilika loves the Santa Anita turf course, evidenced by eight wins in nine races including a perfect 4-for-4 record at the mile trip of the Buena Vista, I think Zaffinah has an upset chance. Looking at just her two-turn turf races since importing to the U.S. in the winter of 2017, Zaffinah has done little wrong, winning three of seven and finishing second in two others. Her best effort came in her most recent start, on Jan. 21 in the Megahertz Stakes, won by Vasilika, but one in which she was on the rail at a critical point in the stretch with no room to stretch her legs. While Vasilika was in the three path passing leader Ms Bad Behavior, Zaffinah continued to wait then spurted through the inside to miss second by a head at the finish. That effort earned her a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure. Considering Vasilika earned 113 figures in her last three winning efforts, with Zaffinah likely to improve in her second start following two months off, if she can secure a path in the stretch to allow her to begin her kick earlier than in the Megahertz, she may be able to turn the tables on Vasilika and post the upset win.
There's not much to say about Vasilika which isn't apparent from her past performances. She had a tremendous 2018 when winning nine of 11, including eight in a row with three of those being graded stakes. It was a testament to the work done by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to help the mare to hold top form from February through November, particularly in the fall when she earned 111, 113, and 113 speed figures while winning the John C. Mabee Stakes, Rodeo Drive Stakes, and Goldikova Stakes in succession. Following her fourth-place finish in the Matriarch Stakes in December, Vasilika took 49 days off and returned in top form, once again earning a 113 figure when winning the Megahertz Stakes at the distance of the Buena Vista. Jockey Flavien Prat rode Vasilika in her last nine wins and continues to know just where to place the mare for her best effort. As such, there's no denying Vasilika is the one the other nine entrants have to beat to win this race.
Ms Bad Behavior, Fahan Mura, and Compelled all have some degree of probability to be in the top four in the Buena Vista, and if neither Zaffinah or Vasilika runs their best, to win. Ms Bad Behavior earned a career-best 110 figure when second in the Megahertz after leading late. It was her third straight stakes race in which she has led with an eighth of a mile to go but been passed in the late stages, by three different horses. Fahan Mura will have to get by Ms Bad Behavior early for the lead she likes but can be tough as nails on the front end. Her best effort yielded a 117 figure last year when leading from start to finish in the Swingtime Stakes in October over the course. Compelled has only finished worse than third once in five tries at a mile on grass. She could be coming on strongly in the late stages like she did when rallying from last of 10 to miss by a nose in the Sensible Lady Turf Dash Stakes last summer. Her 96 figure that day isn't close to the best in this race but she did earn a 104 figure winning the Mardi Gras Stakes last winter.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Amandine (106), Elysea's World (106), English Dancer (99), Streak of Luck (103) and Take These Chains (106).
Main win contenders:
Ms Bad Behavior