Turbulent Descent looks tough to beat in Las Virgenes

Saturday, February 05, 2011

ARCADIA, Calif. – The perfect record that Turbulent Descent amassed in three starts in 2010 will be at risk when she makes her 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita.

Well, technically, it will be at risk, though trainer Mike Puype perceives little danger of Turbulent Descent not extending her unbeaten streak in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes, run over a mile for fillies.

“Her training is forward, she’s eating, and her works have been outstanding,” Puype said. “So far, by design or not, she’s gone for a perfect progression of races. She’s done it all and you have to be confident. It all looks good.”

Owned by a partnership that includes Blinkers On Racing, Bill Strauss, and Scott Regner’s Tiger Racing, which recently acquired a 10 percent share, Turbulent Descent will be heavily favored in the Las Virgenes, which drew a field of seven.

The Las Virgenes is run as the fourth race on a strong 10-race program that includes the $200,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds and the $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap on turf. First post is 12:30 p.m, Pacific.

Turbulent Descent makes her Santa Anita debut in the Las Virgenes. She ran three times at Hollywood Park last fall, winning a maiden race over six furlongs on Oct. 3, the Moccasin Stakes over seven furlongs on Nov. 21, and the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet over 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 11.

She resumed serious training in early January, and worked steadily through the month, including a five-furlong breeze in 59.00 seconds last Sunday.

Jockey David Flores worked Turbulent Descent frequently in January, and is certain she has improved. “She’s the same as always,” he said.

Turbulent Descent should get an ideal trip in the Las Virgenes. The presence of the stakes winners California Nectar and May Day Rose will ensure a good pace, which will help Turbulent Descent, a stalker.

California Nectar has won two seven-furlong stakes at this meeting – the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes in December and the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes in January – and is seeking her first stakes win around two turns. May Day Rose won the Grade 2 Santa Ysabel Stakes here over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 9, her first start since a fourth in the Hollywood Starlet.

“There is so much speed,” said Bob Baffert, who trains May Day Rose. “May Day Rose, she has to go to the lead. They’ll be flying early.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill said that California Nectar can stalk the pace, if necessary. He predicts that Patrick Valenzuela on California Nectar and Rafael Bejarano on May Day Rose will not overcook the pace.

“I don’t think Rafael or Patrick want to kill each other off,” he said. California Nectar “is not a one-dimensional filly.”

California Nectar has earned $313,800 by winning 3 of 7 starts. She was second in her first two races against maidens at Del Mar, and improved through the fall and in recent weeks.

“She disappointed us down at Del Mar,” O’Neill said. “Maybe we thought she’d be a little farther ahead at that point.”

The other starters include Zazu and Plum Pretty, who were second and third behind California Nectar in the Santa Ynez; Bluegrass Chatter, second to May Day Rose in the Santa Ysabel; and the maiden race winner Tiz the Route, who will be a longshot.

They all face a difficult task of competing against Turbulent Descent, who was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding 2-year-old filly. While Turbulent Descent lost the ballot to Awesome Feather, Flores saw ample promise in the Starlet win.

“It was her first time going long and she did enough after she took the lead,” Flores said. “She does what she needs to do and she cruises. I hope she keeps doing that.”

“When she’s on the lead, she starts looking around. Zenyatta had a similar style.”

Flores would know. He rode Zenyatta in the first three starts of her career.