Merneith and Count Again benefited from layoffs to take graded races Feb. 5 at Santa Anita Park. Merneith defeated 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) winner This This in the Santa Monica Stakes (G2), while earlier on the card, Count Again won the Thunder Road Stakes (G3T).
Merneith took her second consecutive Santa Monica, a seven-furlong event for older fillies and mares. In 2021, her competition included 2-1 favorite Hard Not to Love , the 2020 Santa Monica winner. This year, Ce Ce, making her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), went off as the 1-2 favorite. The 9-1 fifth choice in 2021, Merneith was the 5-2 second choice this time around.
When the gate opened, Merneith went right to the front for jockey Edwin Maldonado. With about a half-length on Park Avenue , Merneith clicked off the first quarter in :22.39 and a half-mile in :45.75. Ce Ce, biding her time in fourth, looked like she could swoop down in the stretch for her third consecutive victory.
That might have been the plan, but Merneith refused to budget from the lead. Ce Ce challenged her deep in the turn, drawing even with Merneith at the top of the stretch. The two battled briefly, but then Merneith scampered off to win by three lengths in 1:22.39. Ce Ce was easily second, 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Calypso .
“I was just letting her do everything on her own,” said Maldonado. “I didn’t want to take anything away from her.”
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Maldonado said that Merneith responded when Ce Ce came up to her.
“She picked it up on her own—I didn’t even have to ask her,” the jockey said.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Merneith for HRH Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud, on whose behalf Narvick International bought her for $600,000 at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March 2019 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale. Following the 2021 Santa Monica, Baffert gave Merneith a lengthy layoff, bringing her back in the Jan. 2 Kalookan Queen Stakes, where she finished second.
“I just gave her some time off—she needed freshening,” Baffert said. “I’ve always thought so highly of this filly, and today she put it all together. She definitely needed that first out.”
One of the reasons Baffert is partial to Merneith is that she is a daughter of American Pharoah with whom Baffert won the 2015 Triple Crown.
“I’m so proud of her,” he said. “You get attached to these girls, especially an American Pharoah.”
Maldonado rode Merneith for the first time in the 2021 Santa Monica, and he was also aboard in the Kalookan Queen.
“He’s a good rider,” Baffert said. “Some of these riders don’t get the chances. I’ve had a lot of luck with him. He’s calm, cool, and collected.”
China Horse Club bred Merneith in Kentucky from the Flatter pond flattermewithroses winner of the 2012 Voodoo Dancer Stakes at Belmont Park. Flattermewithroses’ three starters have all won, and the mare has a 2-year-old colt by City of Light .
Video: Santa Monica S. (G2)
Count Again Scores in Thunder Road
Count Again, freshened by trainer Phil D’Amato since August, also proved ready to go on the Feb. 5 card. With Flavien Prat riding him for the first time, Count Again in the Thunder Road defeated odds-on favorite Subconscious by a half-length in the mile turf contest.
“He had shipped all over Kentucky, Canada, and back, so I just thought he needed a little freshener,” said D’Amato of the 7-year-old gelding.
Sniper Kitten forged to the front at the start of the Thunder Road, with Subconscious running about a length back in second after stumbling at the start. Prat settled Count Again into fourth around the first turn and onto the backstretch, not worried when Delaware came through on the rail, leaving Count Again next to last.
Count Again got rolling around the turn, and Prat gave him plenty of room by bringing him wide. Subconscious grabbed the lead in midstretch, but he couldn’t hold off Count Again, who stopped the timer in 1:34.12.
Count Again rallies past Subconscious in the Thunder Road Stakes
“I’ve been on this horse a few times in the morning, so I got to know him,” said Prat. “He was traveling super all the way around there, and when I asked him to run, he gave me a good kick.”
Count Again, the 5-2 second choice, won his first race since the 2020 Seabiscuit Handicap (G2T), his first start in California and first under D’Amato’s tutelage. He went 0-for-5 last year. The gelding’s best efforts in between had been a couple of thirds in graded company. When trained by Gail Cox, Count Again captured the 2020 Singspiel Stakes (G3T) at Woodbine.
When asked what made the difference in the Thunder Road, D’Amato said, “I just think him being fresh and happy—and the leading rider doesn’t hurt either.”
D’Amato trains Count Again for breeder Sam-Son Farm and co-owner Agave Racing Stable. Sam-Son bred the son of Awesome Again —Count to Three by Red Ransom in Ontario, Canada.