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Photo courtesy Benoit Photography.

By Esther Marr, @BH_EMarr, Blood-Horse

English-bred Qaraaba displayed a powerful turn of foot when closing from last to capture the Dec. 30 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/8-mile race, named for the late Hall of Fame trainer that succumbed to a battle with leukemia in 2009, was the eighth event on the card and marked the first black-type score for Qaraaba. Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's assistant for more than 30 years before the trainer's death, presented the trophy to the winning connections.

It was Qaraaba's second straight stateside victory in as many starts since she was shipped to the United States from her native country last summer. While racing in England, she was conditioned by Seamus Durack for Mr. P.A. Deal.

Now trained by Simon Callaghan for Alice Bamford and Michael Tabor, the 5-year-old daughter of Shamardal came into the race off a 1 1/2-length score in a Nov. 15 allowance optional claiming contest at Betfair Hollywood Park. She holds a career record of 7-2-1 from 15 starts, for earnings of $171,119.

"We thought the world of this filly from day one," said Callaghan. "She's special. She'll get better as she goes further. You need to take her back and get her to relax, no matter what the pace is. Julien (Leparoux) did a good job."

The hillside turf course, which was pelted with rain Dec. 29, was labeled "good" for the Robert J. Frankel.

Hard to Resist was up front early, with More Chocolate stalking the pace in second. Early fractions were :24.41 and :49.69. Unleashing her rally in the stretch, Qaraaba displayed impressive, come-from behind tactics as she swung four wide in the lane to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths under jockey Julien Leparoux. She completed the distance in 1:49.20.

"Simon (Callaghan) told me to ride her with a lot of confidence and I did," said Leparoux. "She's a very handy filly and she relaxed perfectly. As you could see, she won pretty easily and she had a lot left."

Tiz Flirtatious, the 7-5 favorite, stalked the pace for the majority of the race in fourth, then made a bid for the lead in the stretch but came up short. She finished 1 1/4 lengths back in second, while 6-1 choice More Chocolate checked in third. Halo Dolly, I Dazzle, Camelia Rose, Imperialistic Rose, Hard to Resist, and Vivo Per Lei completed the order of finish.

"I thought she ran well," said Marty Jones, trainer of Tiz Flirtatious. "She wasn't able to save much ground. I never had her on soft ground so I don't know if she really prefers that or not but she tried. The other filly just ran a little better. We'll see how she takes the race and we'll figure out where we go from here."

Qaraaba, the second choice at odds of 5-2, paid $7.20, $4, and $2.80. Tiz Flirtatious paid $3 and $2.20 to place, while More Chocolate returned $2.60 to show. The exacta paid $16.20, while the trifecta returned $90.40.

Bred by Shadwell Estate Company Limited, Qaraaba is out of the Unfuwain mare Mokaraba. She was a $17,484 purchase at the 2010 Tattersalls July mixed sale.

"We'll look at the Santa Barbara (Handicap) next (gr. IIT, April 20) and hopefully the Beverly D. (gr. IT) at Arlington next summer," said Callaghan when asked about Qaraaba's future. "She'll probably be better the further she goes. Distance won't be a problem."

QARAABA CLOSES FROM LAST TO WIN THE ROBERT J FRANKEL

Qarabaa -uts 2-72inside

Photo courtesy Benoit Photography.

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