Awesome Baby, with Mike Smith aboard, winning the 2014 Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 4 ay Santa Anita Park. (Photo by Eclipse Spotrtswire)
Awesome Baby showed elite ability in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes, a regular steppingstone used by 3-year-old fillies pointing toward the Kentucky Oaks. This Awesome Again filly may opt out of the Oaks due to the 1 1/8-mile distance, but she has a promising future.
Awesome Baby’s potential comes not only in her improving racing résumé, her pedigree stands out and adds further dynamism to her prospects as an Oaks competitor. Her sire, Awesome Again, is the result of crossing Deputy Minister (by Vice Regent) and a Blushing Groom mare whose broodmare sire is Mr. Prospector. Awesome Baby’s second dam is a daughter of Marquetry (by Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo, also by Mr. Prospector, and out of a Vice Regent mare). Blushing Groom appears again as the sire of Awesome Baby’s fourth dam.
This daughter of Awesome Again has shown potential at shorter distances in her four-start career. Owned by Kaleem Shah, Awesome Baby made her debut on Aug. 4 in a 5 ½-furlong Del Mar maiden race.
Sent off as the favorite, Awesome Baby set a scorching pace with fractions of :21.80 for the opening quarter-mile and :45.03 for the half-mile, but drew off to win with a 4 ¾-length score.
Next time out, she was sent off as the favorite at 11-to-10 in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes but finished seventh when stretching out to seven furlongs.
Awesome Baby got a second chance with added distance – this time at 1 1/16 miles around two turns in Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes. She crossed the wire fifth, overwhelmingly defeated by 23 lengths.
After the Santa Ynez win, Bob Baffert remarked on Awesome Baby’s Chandelier performance: “I was a little disappointed in her. I thought she’d hold on. I was getting a little bit discouraged with her because she just wasn’t finishing. She’d been working well, but she was always working well before and she’d fall apart … ”
The Santa Ynez was the first time Awesome Baby was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. In all of her previous outings, Martin Garcia had been in the saddle. However, the race strategy did not change from her previous starts: she set the pace with blistering fractions of :21.76 for the opening quarter and :44.45 for the half-mile.
Awesome Baby could never shake the eventual runner-up, Taste Like Candy, through the early stages but she had a distinct lead. She began to draw away into the stretch and drifted in during the final sixteenth of a mile. She responded willingly to Mike Smith’s urging, but Taste Like Candy had a final drive that shortened Awesome Baby’s winning margin to a half-length. Her final time for the 6 ½-furlong race was 1:16.62. She earned Baffert his third Santa Ynez victory – he had won previously with Yearly Report in 2004 and Indian Blessing in 2008.
Mike Smith said after the Santa Ynez: “Today though, she ran dynamite. She broke really well, was well in hand until I needed to ask her and I just showed her the whip and she kept running. It was a great race out of her today.”