Ouraika and jockey Juan Hernandez, right, win the Sweet Life Stakes for trainer Graham Motion
Recently arrived from her Fair Hill training base in Maryland, trainer Graham Motion’s Ouraika got a perfect ground saving trip and showed tremendous heart late to prevail by a head in Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes, run at about 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in Arcadia, Calif. Ridden by Juan Hernandez, Ouraika got the trip in 1:13.98.
Unhurried while in hand out of the gate, Ouraika was into the bridle passing the half mile pole. A close-up fifth, about 1 ½ lengths off pacesetter Baby Steps at the dirt crossing, Hernandez was able to split horses two from the rail a sixteenth out and prevailed late in a thriller over Flavien Prat and Urban.
“She settled really nicely and she handled it really well,” said Alice Claphan, assistant to Motion. “Juan said she did everything he wanted and when she came across the dirt, he was going to go out, but then the rail opened up and he snuck through there. … She’ll get back home and then we’ll sort out where they want to go with her.”
One for three in her native France, Ouraika had been idle since finishing a close second in her second start for Motion, a first condition allowance going six furlongs on turf Dec. 3 at Aqueduct. Off as the fourth choice in a field of 10 sophomore fillies at 9-2, Ouraika paid $11.40, $4.80 and $3.00.
Owned by Madaket Stables and Michael Dubb, Ouraika, in getting her first graded stakes win, now has two wins and as many seconds from six starts. With the winner’s share of $60,000, she increased her earnings to $100,019.
“She was really professional and just did everything by herself,” said Hernandez. “I was just having fun on top of her…I saw the number nine (Urban) to my outside in the middle of the track and after the wire I said, ‘It was pretty close but I think I got it.’”
The second choice in the betting at 2-1, Urban, fresh off a maiden score down the hill Jan. 8, appeared to have the winner measured inside the sixteenth pole, but couldn’t get by her. Trained by Simon Callaghan, Urban finished 1 ½ lengths clear of race favorite Kitty Kitana and paid $3.60 and $2.40.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Kitty Kitana, who was mid-pack early, was off at 9-5 and paid $2.60 to show while finishing 1 ¼ lengths in front of longshot Ellamira.
Fractions on the Sweet Life were 22.21, 44.68 and 1:07.92.
The meet’s runaway leading rider, Prat won three races on the day, giving him 50 for the meet, well-up on Velazquez at 26.
Special early first post time for an eight-race card on Big Game Sunday is at 11 a.m.