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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Santa Anita: More Chocolate getting tested in Santa Margarita

ARCADIA, Calif. – She ran the best race of her life when she was finally moved to the dirt last time, and though favoritism in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita could fall any number of ways, when you get right down to it, who doesn’t like More Chocolate?

Certainly not John Sadler, the trainer of More Chocolate. After seven starts on turf, Sadler put More Chocolate on dirt for the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes on Jan. 20, and her victory there opened up new potential avenues for More Chocolate. She faces the biggest test of her career Saturday, with the likes of Brushed by a Star and Joyful Victory shipping in for the championship race of the meet for older females, but if More Chocolate continues to improve, the result could be sweet.

“The reason we tried her on dirt last time is because the La Canada is for 4-year-olds, and we wanted to use that condition before running her on dirt against 4 and up,” Sadler said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. “It wasn’t a grand design at all that she had been on turf up until then. It was just circumstances. The gallop boys had said they thought she’d handle dirt. Now, we have a lot more options.”

Sadler purposely kept More Chocolate out of last month’s Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes in order to point to this initial attempt at a Grade 1.

“She’d already won a Grade 2, and it’s a long year,” Sadler said. “Saturday’s race will tell us what we do for the rest of the year.”

The Santa Margarita, at 1 1/8 miles, drew just six entrants. My Miss Aurelia vacated town for the Azeri on Saturday at Oaklawn, but Joyful Victory and Brushed by a Star shipped west after finishing 1-2 in the Houston Ladies Classic on Jan. 26.

For Joyful Victory, this is her second visit to Santa Anita. She was second in the Grade 1 Zenyatta last September. Rosie Napravnik makes a rare Southern California visit for the mount.

“She’s doing great, but it was a long trip out here,” Corey York, the assistant to trainer Larry Jones, said Thursday morning. “We had to van from Fair Grounds to Little Rock, waited a few hours there to load onto the plane, flew three hours here, and then it was another hour from the airport. But she ate great, looks great, and is feeling good. She ran well here last time. We’re looking to get her a Grade 1 win.”

Brushed by a Star was 4 1/4 lengths in arrears of Joyful Victory at Sam Houston, but finished in front of her in two starts last fall at Churchill Downs. This is her first trip to California.

Great Hot won the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria in front-running fashion, though jockey Gary Stevens, aboard her for the first time that day, doesn’t expect to have things quite as easy this time.

“No one respected her the other day. They’ll respect her now. I doubt we’ll be able to steal it,” Stevens said. “She flew the last three-eighths of that race. If I have as much horse at the three-eighths this race, she’ll be tough.”

Snow Fall was a distant fourth in the Santa Maria, her finish compromised by the soft pace. She defeated Great Hot in the Paseana in her race prior to that on Jan. 13.

The Only Key is racing for the first time on dirt. The winner of a $20,000 claiming race on the Golden Gate turf Jan. 13, she was second in a first-level allowance on the Santa Anita turf last time out Feb. 15.

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