ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 28, 2012) – Following a stirring stretch-long duel with Sugarinthemorning, Craig Stables’ Home Sweet Aspen emerged victorious by a neck Saturday in Santa Anita’s 55th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Monica Stakes for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs before an on-track crowd of 30,514 on Sunshine Millions Day.

Timed in 1:21.42 under a vigorous ride by Joel Rosario, the homebred daughter of Candy Ride rebounded from a faltering fourth in the Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 31 to gain her first graded stakes victory in her ninth start.

It wasn’t easy. Home Sweet Aspen and Sugarinthemorning, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, began to separate themselves from the other five entrants at the head of the lane. But neither would yield. It was Home Sweet Aspen, a 5-1 shot, along the rail with 9-2 Sugarinthemorning on her flank. Finally, Rosario’s mount slowly edged clear.

She’s Cheeky, ridden by Joe Talamo, wound up third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Sugarinthemorning. The two favorites, both 2-1, finished up the track. Teddy’s Promise, who won the La Brea by 2 ½ lengths, finished a non-threatening fifth. Rumor, never worse than second in seven previous starts, backed up to sixth as the narrow choice.

Rosario recalled the La Brea. “She was probably going a little too quick,” he said of his mount. “She was much better today. She was impressive. I kind of saw the other horse coming on the outside, so I just waited a little bit. I knew I had a little more left because I let her go out easy early, and she did.”

John Sadler, who trains Home Sweet Aspen and who won the Santa Monica last year with Switch, felt the rail post might have compromised his Candy Ride filly in the La Brea. “I felt she’s capable, and we got a good trip today,” he said. “I thought she’d run well in here today.”

The late Sidney Craig and wife Jenny bred Home Sweet Aspen, who finished off the board in her last two races following three wins and as many seconds in her first six starts. Her only previous stakes victory had been gained in last October’s ungraded Louis R. Rowan Stakes at Santa Anita.

With a winning purse of $180,000 in the Santa Monica, Home Sweet Aspen increased her earnings to $355,822. She paid $13.60, $6.80 and $4.40. Sugarinthemorning’s mutuels were $5 and $3.60. The show price on She’s Cheeky was $5.

The longest shot in a field reduced to five 3-year-old fillies after morning line favorite Eden Moon became ill, Willa B Awesome, at 11-1, purloined the 45th running of the Grade III, $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

The California-bred daughter of Awesome Gambler stole off to a comfortable early lead under jockey Martin Pedroza, and despite solid fractions, Willa B Awesome was never seriously threatened before crossing the wire with 3 ½ lengths to spare in 1:41.73.

Killer Graces, with Talamo aboard, made a run at the leader entering the stretch, but flattened out while holding second, three lengths in front of Lady of Shamrock, ridden by Mike Smith. Charm the Maker, the even-money favorite, finished fourth after breaking awkwardly. She never got into the mix.

“My plan was, there was no speed on paper,” said Pedroza, “so if they would chase me for a little bit, I could pull her away early. If the other horses had to come from behind, I figured I’d have a pretty good chance to win the race.

“It was just the way I planned it. I took advantage of her speed. I put her where she wanted to be, and then I said, ‘Come and get me.’”

The result was the third win in 10 starts for the filly trained by Walther Solis who had backed up to third behind Charm the Maker and Killer Graces in the $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on Nov. 13.

Willa B Awesome paid $24.20, $7.60 and $3.80. The mutuels on Killer Graces were $5.40 and $3.40. Lady of Shamrock paid $3.80 to show. The winning purse of $60,000 increased the winner’s career earnings to $233,896 for owners Phil Daniels, Patsy London and John Winters.

In the first of the Sunshine Millions Day races exclusively for California-breds, Compari, handled by Hall of Famer Smith, split horses in midstretch to score as the even-money favorite in the $100,000 Sensational Star Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course.

Compari inherited the favorite’s role following the previous day’s scratch of Caracortado due to a foot ailment. Caracortado had been scheduled to make his second start over the layout after staging a breathtaking rally to win the Grade III Daytona Handicap on Jan. 8.

A 6-year-old Redattore gelding trained by Marty Jones, Compari tracked pace-setters Ain’t No Other and My Summer Slew before bursting between the pair to defeat the former by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:12.02. The latter held second, one-half length ahead of third-place Red Defense.

The victory was the eighth in 14 races for the Sensational Star’s defending champion who was bred by owners Harris Farms, Donald Valpredo and John Nicoletti. Compari’s earnings surged to $560,430.

“He ran dynamite,” said Smith. “I asked Marty (Jones), ‘If I just come out of there and put him where he’s comfortable, will that work?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, he’s a class horse. You just put him where he’s in good rhythm.’

“He was just so relaxed laying third. He was pricking his ears, so I knew he was going to fire. Midway through the turn, I could see the horse that was second getting out just a bit, and a lot of times when they hit that dirt, they really spread it. So I banked on it, and it worked.”

“He’s a lot more versatile than he used to be,” Jones said, “and when you get a trip like that, it sure helps. That horse just floated out, and he just got a dream run. He’s a nice horse. He’s all heart. It’s nice to see him back on track with a couple wins.”

Compari paid $4, $3.20 and $2.20 for his second successive victory. He had enjoyed a stretch of six successive wins earlier in his career. Runner-up My Summer Slew, ridden by Alonso Quinonez, returned $7.60 and $3.60. Red Defense, with Rosario up, paid $2.60 to show.

Holladay Road was victorious in the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes at 1 1/16 miles when rallying to overtake Macho Dorado and triumph by 2 ½ lengths while covering the distance in 1:41.25 with Bejarano aboard.

The 7-year-old gelding, trained by Julio Canani for Gary and Wendy Broad, was rated near the rear as Macho Dorado and Bluegrass Reward dueled for control through much of the early going.

Macho Dorado dispatched Bluegrass Reward nearing the far turn. He gamely held the place under Corey Nakatani after being collared by the winner in midstretch. Spud Spivens, with Smith in the saddle, gained third, 3 ½ lengths behind the runner-up.

“I knew there was going to be plenty of speed in the race,” Bejarano said in the winner’s circle. “I got comfortable with my horse, and I knew I could be patient a little bit. >From the half-mile pole, everybody spread out, so I tried to go to the rail and make a little move, and that was it.”

As the second choice, Holladay Road paid $6.60, $3.60 and $2.60. The return on Macho Dorado was $6 and $3.60 while Spud Spivens paid $3.80 to show. Thirtyfirststreet, the 19-10 favorite, was not a factor while finishing fourth. The $60,000 won by Holladay Road, a son of Street Cry, boosted his earnings to $231,820 from six wins in 13 races.

Chokecherymary capped off the stakes events for Cal-breds with a hard-charging finish to take the $100,000 Valentine Dancer for fillies and mares at one mile on turf at odds of 8-1. The 4-year-old daughter of Capsized was clocked in 1:34.42.

Nakatani guided the winner to a half-length score over California Nectar, ridden by Hector Berrios. “It couldn’t have panned out any better,” said Nakatani. “There was plenty of speed in the race, and wherever she was going to be happy and comfortable was where I was going to try to keep her. The last run was the most important one, and she did it today.”

Secret Cove, with Rosario in the irons, finished a neck behind California Nectar and a nose ahead of fourth-place Halo Dolly, the 8-5 favorite.

Trained by Gary Mandella for Steve and Sue Woskow, Chokecherymary paid $18.80, $8 and $4.20 after recording her third victory in eight starts. California Nectar paid $8 and $5. Secret Cove returned $3.80 to show. With the winning purse of $60,000, Chokecherymary’s earnings rose to $172,478.

“I wouldn’t blame anybody for betting against her today because her last mile grass race looks really bad on paper,” said Mandella. He noted that she was never comfortable in the Oct. 27 event at Santa Anita when finishing sixth. “She was tossing her head all over the place going into the first turn, and she does that sometimes,” explained Mandella. “When she’s calm and runs like she did today, she’s got a pretty significant turn of foot.”

With a two-day Pick Six carryover of $239,518 resulting from Friday’s events, Santa Anita is expecting a Pick Six pool in excess of $750,000 on Sunday when a nine-race card features the $70,000 Wishing Well Stakes headed by Unzip Me. The two-day carryover was put on hold Saturday when Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park co-hosted the special “Luck” Pick Six. First post on Sunday is at 12:30 p.m. The Pick Six sequence will cover races four through nine.