ARCADIA, Calif. -- After going eight months without a stakes win, another five minutes following the running of Saturday's $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita was not a stretch for the connections of Magical Fantasy. It just seemed like forever.
During those five minutes the stewards studied the photo finish between Magical Fantasy and Black Mamba before announcing that Magical Fantasy had won the Grade 2 Santa Barbara by a nose. It was her first victory since the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last August.
"I'd have taken a dead heat," said winning trainer Paddy Gallagher. "It looked like the other filly had it right before the wire and my filly came back on."
Ridden by Alex Solis, Magical Fantasy ($8) ran 1 1/4 miles on turf in 1:59.83. She overcame a rough trip on the final turn to reach the front in the final furlong. Magical Fantasy and 5-2 favorite Toque de Queda bumped on the turn, with Magical Fantasy being forced to steady.
"She was game," Gallagher said. "She gave up a length or two."
Toque de Queda finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Black Mamba.
Ainamaa set a moderate pace of 24.25 and 48.22 seconds, leading by a length at the eighth pole. Through the final furlong, Toque de Queda ran alongside Ainamaa, but could not hold off Magical Fantasy, who was fifth with a quarter-mile remaining.
Black Mamba closed from last and was six wide entering the stretch. The Santa Barbara was her first start since a fourth against males in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last December. Black Mamba was second in the 2008 Santa Barbara, losing that race by a nose to Foxysox, This year, Foxysox finished fifth, never threatening the leaders.
Magical Fantasy has won 3 of 14 starts and $452,431 for the partnership of David Bienstock, Paul Mandabach and Chuck Winner. She lost her first two starts this year - a second in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes and a fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap.
Mr Gruff takes San Simeon
Mr Gruff won his stakes debut in the Grade 3, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap, leading throughout the hillside turf race over about 6 1/2 furlongs.
Jockey Joel Rosario had Mr Gruff just in front of 5-2 favorite Desert Code through early fractions of 22.01 and 43.61 seconds, shook clear to lead by 2 1/2 lengths in the stretch and held off a determined run from Doppio to win by three-quarters of a length.
Mr Gruff ($7.60) was timed in 1:11.88.
"The first half mile was pretty fast," Rosario said. "After that, he relaxed. He didn't stop."
Doppio, the longest shot in the field of eight at 21-1, closed from seventh to finish second, a half-length in front of 10-1 Euroglide. Desert Code, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last October, faded through the stretch and finished last.
Mr Gruff, a 5-year-old gelding by Mr. Greeley, has won 3 of 6 starts and $138,880 for owner Gary Broad and trainer Ron Ellis. Mr Gruff made his career debut in March 2008 and has won 3 of 4 starts this year.
Ellis has the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on the hillside turf course here in November as a long-term goal for Mr Gruff.