ARCADIA, Calif. - The conversation between trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia before Sunday's $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita was like a halftime chat between a coach and player.
Baffert scolded Garcia for going too fast on Underground in the seventh race, when that filly finished second. Baffert did not want to see the same result aboard Gabby's Golden Gal in the Grade 1 Santa Monica.
Garcia took the advice to heart. He kept Gabby's Golden Gal in third for the first half-mile before taking the lead in the final furlong. Gabby's Golden Gal ($25.20) closed well to win the Santa Monica by 1 1/4 lengths over 2-1 favorite Proviso, the filly's second Grade 1 win and a career-first for Garcia, 25.
"I was confident I could make her relax," Garcia said. "She waited for me. When I asked her to go, she exploded."
Garcia had Gabby's Golden Gal third, within a length of leader Czechers, after a quarter-mile in 23.58 seconds. She was still third while racing three wide on the turn and made steady progress late.
Owned by Arnold Zetcher, Gabby's Golden Gal was timed in 1:21.25. The Santa Monica was the first time that Garcia had ridden Gabby's Golden Gal, although he had been aboard for some of her recent workouts. "He listens," Baffert said of the jockey. "I thought I'd give him a chance."
Proviso, who was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic here in November, was fourth early and closed steadily to finish 1 1/4 lengths in front of Free Flying Soul, who led in early stretch. Czechers faded to finish fourth in the field of 11 fillies and mares.
Gabby's Golden Gal has won 4 of 9 starts and $499,405. She won the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes last June at Belmont Park and the Sunland Park Oaks last March in New Mexico. In December, Gabby's Golden Gal finished seventh as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, her first start since a ninth in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes last July.
"She just needed the race," Baffert said of the La Brea. "Maybe I was too easy on her."
She was fit and ready for the Santa Monica on Sunday.