Jeff Siegel’s Blog: Santa Anita Weekly Post Mortem (November 6, 2018)

Jeff Siegel puts the microscope on the previous week’s racing at Santa Anita and identifies significant trips and trouble while also zeroing in on key performances and horses to watch.  It’s nothing but opinion – but at least its his.  Updated every Tuesday.




The remarkable Vasilika – easily the claim of this year or maybe even any year – now has amassed $591,528 in earnings since being haltered by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer for $40,000 out of a winning effort Feb. 11.  She somehow managed to lose her next race by a neck in a first-level allowance but since has reeled off eight consecutive victories, three of them graded, including a dominant win in today’s Goldikova over a mile on turf.  Flavien Prat has been aboard in every race during the winning streak and in his postrace comments said, “a mile, a mile and on-quarter, it doesn’t matter.” Next on the agenda most likely will be the Matriarch at Del Mar, a Grade-1 at Del Mar Dec. 2.  A victory in that race won’t be enough to overtake Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie in Eclipse Award polling, but it should land her in the top three amongst voters.  There’s always next year.

Hillside Turf Course specialist Tiz a Billy received a confidence building win when trainer Brian Koriner took advantage of four straight below standard runs to drop him into a $25,000 claimer in late September, and the result was a seven-length romp that showed the gelding’s tires still had plenty of tread.  Raised to $50,000 in today’s sixth race, the son of Tizway was knocked down to 6/5 and romped again, earning a 95 Beyer speed figure, just one point below his career top.  Tiz a Billy now has won five career races over the downhill course but has never won a race anywhere else.  As sharp as he is right now, it will be tempting for Koriner to try to find a race for him at Del Mar, or maybe up north, but it might be wiser to just put him away for a couple of months and then point for the re-opening of Santa Anita in late December.

Speaking of horses for courses, River Boyne ran his perfect record over the Santa Anita turf course to five with a fully-extended victory in the Twilight Derby over the New York shipping Hill Prince winner Have At It, with 37-1 Desert Stone outrunning his odds to finish an excellent third, a half-length behind the winner.   In his previous start when facing essentially the same type of competition, River Boyne was beaten into third at even money in the Del Mar Derby and earlier this year finished off the board in the American Turf at Churchill Downs (though he reportedly came out of that race sick).  Clearly, the Irish-bred 3-year-old is most comfortable in Arcadia, so he’s another that probably shouldn’t be seen again until the tour swings back to Santa Anita in late December.



 Away since August of 2017, Easy Grader had a right to be a bit rusty in a first-level $40,000 optional claimer in today’s sixth race over five furlongs on turf.  The work tab wasn’t especially impressive, and the 5-year-old mare had no history of running well fresh, so we played against her in the race that was to be won by the in-form Moon Kitty in what turned about to be a faster-than-par race for the level.  Saving ground in the second flight to the turn and then appearing to be backing out of it at the quarter pole, ‘Grader found brief renewed energy into the lane to move within range but then felt the effects of the layoff and gave out in the final stages, winding up fourth, beaten four lengths.  We’ll be expecting a forward move off this tightener at Del Mar, perhaps with a one-level class drop.  Dirt is an option; she broke her maiden way back in October of 2015 on the main track.  In the same race, the Doug O’Neill-trained favorite Dis Smart Cat wound up last and was subsequently a voided claim.

Most hot-shot Bob Baffert-trained debuting 2-year-olds receive significant wagering action, sometimes more so than deserved, but Count Di Luna was as cold as ice in the sixth race, a six-furlong sprint dominated on the tote by the second-timer Stretford End.  The Simon Callaghan-trained colt had run subsequent Street Sense Stakes winner Improbable to a neck in his debut earlier this meeting in a race that was assigned a Beyer speed figure of 84, and nothing more was expected to be needed for the son of Will Take Charge to beat this field.   Turns out that was true – an 84 Beyer WAS good enough – and that’s exactly what Count Di Luna earned in his length-and-one-half score over the 3/5 favorite, who checked in more than seven lengths clear of everybody else.  The winner, a son of Cash Call Futurity-G1 winner Liaison from near-millionaire earner House of Fortune, flashed good (surprising?) early speed to press the issue, shook off his pace rivals into the lane and then bravely withstood Stretford End’s extended bid through the lane to win like a colt with an excellent future, especially since his pedigree suggests he’ll be better routing than sprinting.  Of course, it’s not too late for Stretford End to be a good colt, too, but it’s twice now that he’s had every chance to break his maiden but was unable to seal the deal when it mattered the most.

California-bred stakes races can be very strong, or very weak.   The $200,000 Golden State Juvenile Stakes was very weak, except for the first two finishers, Cruel Intention and Galilean, who finished a neck apart at the end of the seven-furlong sprint while winding up 16 lengths clear of everybody else.  These are two good colts, as the powerful 90 Beyer assigned to the race clearly demonstrates, and they seem certain to meet again down the road.   Both are a credit to their sires.  Cruel Intention, purchased for $200,000 at Barretts in April, is a son of the good sprinter Smiling Tiger but out of a mare who couldn’t win a restricted (nw-2) $12,500 claimer during her racing career.  Galilean, a $600,000 buy at that same sale, is by the prolific Uncle Mo but was a produced by a mare that never won a race and was beaten for maiden $12,500 at Woodbine.



 Chicago Style hadn’t raced since January, and is a proven marathoner, so his appearance in the restricted Lure Stakes over a mile on grass in today’s seventh race was for nothing more than preparatory purposes.  Obviously, trainer Tom Proctor wanted a good race, but the result wasn’t going to be as important as the actual performance, one that would provide evidence that the son of Kitten’s Joy was ready to embark on another successful string of lucrative long-distance races.  Though Chicago Style wound up fifth in the Lure, Proctor got what he wanted.  The veteran gelding finished eagerly into the teeth of a strong final quarter (the leaders came home in :23.58 and ‘Style picked up five lengths), so this was the absolute perfect prep.  It’s important to note that Chicago Style won twice last year over the Del Mar Turf course and then was beaten a neck in the 11-furlong Hollywood Turf Cup.  The 2018 Turf Cup is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 23, exactly three weeks down the road.  We expect Chicago Style to be in the field.

Just how good is Give Me a Hint?  Well, she’s undefeated in three starts, all victories accomplished by daylight, she’s earned $151,040, and clearly is far ahead in the class of California-bred juvenile fillies.  She has a lovely stalking style, and with Beat Hollow on the bottom side of her pedigree she has a right to not only handle at least a mile but grass as well.  But based on Beyer speed figures (she’s earned numbers of 68-74-61) trainer Bob Hess, Jr. would be wise to keep her in state-bred company, and that’s probably what he’ll do.  Her win in today’s seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile Fillies was visually pleasing, even though the final time of the race (1:26.45 with a final furlong in an ugly :14.23) most certainly would indicate otherwise.  Modest numbers notwithstanding, this is a quality filly and as long as she’s not asked to do too much, she’ll remain a cash register for her connections.



Goren brought $1.1 million at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton March Sale but in two previous outings last summer the son of More Than Ready looked very much like a bust, finishing sixth of eight in his sprint debut (beaten 12 lengths) and then last of 12 (beaten 15 lengths) two-turning on grass.  And nobody was expecting anything, since he took no money in either start.  If it weren’t for his purchase price he’d been a strong candidate to show up in a maiden-twenty.  But given the initial investment trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had no choice but to stay the course and hope that the 3-year-old colt would eventually figure things out.  Well, finally, he did, in today’s third race, flashing surprising early speed to press the pace and then coming away in powerful fashion in the final furlong to register a 21-1 upset (surprised he was that low) when graduating by more than four lengths.  The Beyer number wasn’t spectacular (81) bit it was good enough for the level.  It’ll be interesting to see if this colt has another forward move or two in him and perhaps become at least useful down the road.  As for earning back his purchase price, let’s just say that’ll be a steep hill to climb.

For a partnership that included his own account, Hollendorfer may have made a timely claim 30 minutes later when he haltered gate-to-wire winner Rapid Red for $25,000 out of the fourth race.  The pace flow (very slow early, very fast late) is typical for a front-running winner on grass and this veteran gelding took full advantage of the situation to hold sway over The Big Train, who rallied against the grain for second, but was subsequently a voided claim for unsoundness.  Rapid Red, while clearly capable of taking advantage of a “lone f” trip, has never really been a need-the-lead type.  Logically, his new connections would be seeking a $32,000 claimer at Del Mar, but races for that level are rarely carded over the Del Mar turf course and none appear in the first condition book.  However, there is one at Golden Gate Fields November 18 and that’s where we expect to see him next.

While we’re still on the Hollendorfer kick, let’s mention that we fully expected Getaloadofthis to win the fifth race, a bottom-rung maiden claimer over a mile, so much so that we thought 9/5 was a reasonable price to take.  With the classic two-sprints-and-a-stretch pattern combined with a recent “Best of the Morning” workout, the Graydar gelding was expected to have a comfortable trip up front.  Indeed, he cleared quickly without need of urging to establish the lead through manageable splits, but over a race track that was slow, deep and anti-speed, he had little to give under pressure and was worn down late by 23-1 Smokin B.  Getaloadofthis subsequently was a voided claim, which may explain his failure to finish the job.

To add further evidence that today’s track was very unkind to the speed types, the first three finishers in the middle-distance seventh race (Hard Arch, Original Intent, and Topgallant) rallied from seventh-eighth-ninth, respectively, in a race in which the final time of 1:46.91 was slow, but not untypically so over a main track that has played that way for more than a year, if not longer.  Because many horses seem to struggle over the deep track, the margins between runners at the wire have become skewed; often stretch drives in Santa Anita route races are ugly and resemble the end of Aintree’s Grand National.

Battle of Midway isn’t all the way back – remember, he won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last year – but his victory in the overnight Comma to the Top Stakes was a step in the right direction.  The Beyer number of 99 was okay but was still nine points below his career top.  The long-term goal is the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park January 26, but the son of Smart Strike, who returned to racing in August after being proven sterile at stud during the spring, is expected to have at least a couple of runs before that, including the Native Diver Handicap at Del Mar Nov. 25.  The disappointment in the race was the always well-regarded Tatters to Riches, who checked in next-to-last, beaten almost 14 lengths.  All four of his prior starts had come at Del Mar, so maybe that’s his track.  the son of Union Rags was laboring throughout and might not have cared for the  deep, loose, racetrack.  Hopefully, it was nothing more than that.



 Given his easy front-running trip, Impression should have won today’s seventh race, a restricted (nw-3) $35,000 claimer over a mile on turf.  Fresh from a facile gate-to-wire score on dirt at Los Alamitos, the Billy Morey-trained gelding had been assigned “Best of the Morning” status following a sharp workout October 8.  Yes, he had never won on turf, but he’d hit the board in five of six career starts on grass, so we didn’t expect the surface switch to be an issue.  As anticipated, Impression made the running in hand, but when push came to shove, second-choice Acker rolled on by to prove clearly best by a bit more than a length, with Impression more than two clear of the others.  It was one of those, “how did he lose?” moments, but when Impression returned unsound and was a voided claim, his failure to seal the deal made more sense.

In the ninth race, the 2-year-old filly Honeyfromthesouth – another afforded “Best of the Morning” status following an exceptional drill Oct. 16 – opened up a two-length advantage into the stretch and appeared headed for her maiden win when she hit the wall – no, not the one supposedly being built in Tijuana but the imaginary (or invisible) one that all fading front-runners seem to confront inside the eighth pole – and eventually wound up off the board at 2/5 in a race won by second-timer Madame Vestal.  In her debut when trained by Dave Hofmans, Honeyfromthesouth had finished a promising second to the Bob Baffert-trained Chasing Yesterday at Del Mar, after which she was purchased privately by Phoenix Thoroughbreds and transferred to Baffert (presumably on at least some recommendation from the trainer).  Since then, Honeyfromthesouth has trained like you’d expect, but in the afternoon, she has been a major disappointment, first failing at 50 cents on the dollar when nosed out in a five-runner race by Fighting Mad, and then today when she put up no resistance when it mattered the most.  The winner, a daughter of Into Mischief, produced the forward move that you always like to see from a second-time starter and should be more than useful as she continues to develop, but the one that really caught the eye was runner-up Slewgoodtobetrue, who was allowed to settle early and then finish, and seems certain to improve a bunch with a more serious effort next time out for the Peter Eurton barn.



Divine Dhama won today’s seventh, a maiden $30,000 dirt track miler, by more than 15 lengths in a race that was clocked in 1:39.54.  Now, that’s a slow final time on the face of it, but the Beyer number of 70 – which takes into consideration how deep and sluggish the track was playing – represented a massive improvement of 41 points for the 2-year-old daughter of Paynter, who had in her past performance chart the two-sprints-and-a-stretch out pattern.  Bred to improve not only with distance but with experience and maturity, the John Sadler-trained filly may have had nothing behind her, but she was quite pleasing visually and may have a future.  No, she’s not going to going and win a black-type race anytime soon on this circuit, but she has starter’s and first-level allowance conditions still available and options up north as well.  It’s also worth noting that Easy Peasy finished fourth and was beaten 24 lengths.  Great Salvation finished last and checked in 68 lengths behind the winner.  Now, I’m as much of a proponent for a safe racetrack as the next guy, but not when the surface is so deep that half the field can’t cope with it.  There must be a happy medium.



There could be no visible excuse for the failure at 3/5 by the promising Claudelle in the second race – a maiden special weight miler for juvenile fillies, other than the racetrack, which was officially listed as “fast.”  Dry, yes, fast, no.  The final time of the race was 1:40.78, approximately four full seconds (20 lengths?) slower than what fillies of this class used to run at Santa Anita.  The turf course, on the other hand, is smooth and firm, so the best advice I’d give horsemen who have horses that struggle mightily over the current main track is simply to look for a race on grass.  Most will get over it much better.

He may not turn out to be the male equivalent of Vasilika, but Awesome Anywhere has the makings of another spectacular claim by Jerry Hollendorfer.  Taken at Golden Gate Fields for $32,000 out of a winning race in mid-September, the son of Awesome of Course has since captured a first-level allowance at Santa Anita and then in today’s fourth race stepped up another level to earn a career top (100) Beyer speed figure in a 7 ¼ length romp.  Awesome Anywhere didn’t make it to the post until January of this year when he showed up in a bottom-rung maiden $20,000 event, so clearly, the 4-year-olds has had his issues.  But this was his 11th career start this year (with six wins), so whatever problem he may have had seems no longer worth worrying about.



It was somewhat disappointing that the restricted Sunny Slope Stakes for 2-year-olds could muster only four starters, one of which (Shark) finished 39 lengths behind the third-place finisher.  Essentially this was a $70,000 first-level allowance race, and it was won by the first-time gelding Sparky Ville, who capitalized on a perfect stalking trip to wear down the recent maiden-claiming winner Savagery, with even-money favorite and pace-setting Seven Scents weakening under pressure to wind up third.  The assigned Beyer speed figure was a respectable 83, a career top for the winner by 13 points, and based on pedigree Sparky Ville should eventually be just as good routing as sprinting.  But the son of Candy Ride still has considerable ground to make up to be ranked among the best juveniles in the West.  Two races back he finished second, beaten more than 10 lengths, to Instagrand in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar in August and then he was non-competitive when last of six (beaten 16 lengths) behind Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes last month.

Sparky Ville wasn’t the only first-time gelding to produce a significant forward move on the Sunday program.  Erotic, off the track since December 26, 2017, returned for trainer Richard Mandella (excellent stats with layoff runners) in a maiden special weight Hillside affair in the nightcap.  Despite a healthy series of improved workouts and the presence of leading rider Flavien Prat, he was largely ignored on the tote at 11-1, but the son of More Than Ready left his previous form behind with a sharp off-the-pace tally that earned a 75 Beyer figure, 14 points better than his previous career top.  The route-to-sprint angle always is highly-effective in these slalom events and both Erotic and second place finisher Big Buzz (10-1) not only were shortening in trip but both were sprinting for the first time in their racing careers.  The $106.50 exacta for a dollar certainly was haveable based on that excellent long shot angle alone.



Over what proved to be a very pro-speed main track, Kershaw had much going for him – karma, too, if you believe in that – when trying a two-turn mile for the first time in today’s third race, a five-runner starter’s allowance event that was clearly lacking in early speed.  The Phil D’Amato-trained gelding was stretching out for the first time and those who backed him down to co-favoritism certainly identified the powerful angle that states that if a horse really doesn’t want to run long, he will anyway in his first attempt.  Whether pristine conditions made Kershaw’s six-length romp made him look better than he really is will be determined in due time; however, we’d strongly advise to treat the Phil D’Amato-trained gelding with extreme skepticism if he shows up in a race with other speed types next time out.  On the other hand, if the Dodgers win the World Series, send it in.

In her first start on grass (and just the third of her career), Mercy Mercy deserved better than finishing fourth in the seventh race, a maiden special weight turf miler for juvenile fillies.  The Bob Hess-trained daughter of Mucho Macho Man settled nicely off the pace in a change of tactics, attempted to produce a rally in the upper stretch but ran into a roadblock and lost valuable momentum, only to pick it up again close home before galloping out strongly.  Beaten 2 ½ lengths for the money, she clearly improved significantly off her previous two outings and though she doesn’t really have a turf pedigree grass apparently is her preferred surface.  She’ll also enjoy more distance when given the chance.

There was plenty of buzz surrounding the debut of Temple Secret in the finale, a downhill turf sprint for juvenile fillies.  Though she had clear sailing from the top of the lane to the wire and could only manage a fifth-place finish (beaten three lengths by Vantastic), the daughter of Temple City stayed on nicely and surely will move forward with experience and distance.  The Neil Drysdale-trained filly is worth backing next time when stretching out to a mile on grass, most likely during the fall Del Mar season.



Starting Bloc really has gotten good lately, so good in fact that it would not be surprising to see the son of More Than Ready find his way into stakes competition before the end of the year.  Claimed out of a maiden $50,000 affair by low profile trainer Alfred Marquez from Richard Mandella in May, the 4-year-old colt has matured into a highly-useful turf performer, winning three of his last four starts including a last-to-first performance in today’s sixth race vs. first-level allowance horses over 10 furlongs.  The colt’s Beyer numbers are on a steady rise – 68-79-84-85-86 in his last five starts – and further improvement is likely.  His best weapon is his exceptional turn of foot at any distance, so Marquez has several options as he maps out a plan for the remainder of the year.

The finale, a downhill turf maiden raffle for two-year-old fillies, saw the first five finishing slots filled by first-time starters, including the San Luis Rey Downs shipper Velvet Queen, who grabbed control early and never looked back.  Trainer Richard Baltas probably could have chosen any jockey for the daughter of Animal Kingdom but opted for Agapito Delgadillo, an out-of-fashion but capable veteran jockey who rarely attracts money.  If the goal was to cash a bet at a nice price, Delgadillo is the guy you want.  The race should prove productive, because in addition to the winner there were other newcomers in the field that are likely to develop into useful sorts.  Runner-up Out of Balance, a debuting Kitten’s Joy filly from Zenyatta’s Grade-1 winner half-sister Balance (who, like Zenyatta, has yet to produce even one winner from five prior foals), hadn’t shown much of anything in the morning for trainer David Hofmans but produced a good late kick to wind up second in a race that surely will lead to better things for her down the road.



Kookie Gal, extremely well-meant in her debut when facing maiden juvenile state-bred fillies over a mile on grass in today’s eighth race, managed to win the race by a diminishing head but almost cost herself the victory by pulling very hard behind the leaders, who simply were going too slow for her liking during the first half mile.  Recognizing that his mount was uncomfortable being covered up along the rail, jockey Flavien Prat sensed that the daughter of Boisterous would be happier if free and clear, even though a maneuver to the outside (an opportunity that materialized approaching the far turn) would produce a loss of ground.  That split-second decision by Prat proved to be a winning one, as Kookie Gal switched off, got into proper rhythm, struck the front midway on the turn and then dug down deep under pressure to withstand fellow first-timer Doc Yco Cheeks.  Bred for grass on both sides of her pedigree, the Peter Miller-trained filly has plenty of raw ability and could develop into a highly-useful sort in state-bred company this year and next.  Cheekaboo’s full sister Doc Yco Cheeks, rallied into the teeth of slow splits to just miss in a very promising effort for trainer Peter Eurton.  In a race that should prove to be highly-productive, the first two finishers are “must follow” types, for sure.



No matter what she accomplishes on the racetrack, Chasing Yesterday first and foremost always will be known as Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s half-sister.  But the juvenile daughter of Tapit has a chance make a name for herself and then some after becoming a listed stakes winner in just her third career start.  So far, the Bob Baffert-trained chestnut filly has done nothing but sprint, a highly-rated and visually pleasing maiden tally at Del Mar, a seventh-place finish following an ill-advised ship across the country for the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga, and then in today’s six-furlong Anoakia Stakes when she wore down recent hot-shot maiden winner It’sjustanillusion to win by a half-length.  Chasing Yesterday earned a superb 89 Beyer figure in victory while giving every indication that she’ll do nothing but improve with distance, maturity, and experience.  In fact, she would have had a reasonable chance of hitting the board – at the very least – if sent to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 19 days but, according to reports, she’s not going anywhere, at least for now.

Surfing Star was supposed to run well – he was the favorite – when returning off a nearly six-month layoff in a first-level allowance sprint at Del Mar in August but had the misfortune of drawing inside (the two-hole) in the six-furlong sprint and never had a prayer.  The Bruce Headley-trained colt broke awkwardly and stumbled to lose his position and then attempted to advance along the rail in the gooiest part of the track.  He wound up sixth, beaten four lengths.  Most sharp handicappers recognized that the disappointing performance could be tossed, which is why the son of Surf Cat left as the strong second choice in today’s eighth race in his first try over a mile.    Drawing the rail and permitted to establish the running through a relatively soft opening quarter (:23 flat), Surfing Star controlled the pace and then bravely fought off even-money favorite Avanti Bello before drawing clear by more than three lengths in the final furlong.  A 3-year-old with just four career starts, Surfing Star has a chance to be a good colt, but he still has plenty to prove it and it will be interesting to see how far up the ladder he can climb.  Remember the old axiom: horses who don’t really want to route WILL route the first time they try it.



Due to an unexpected overnight rain and lightning storm, the main track was sealed tight early Friday evening and then harrowed just before first post time.  The result was an extremely pro-speed race track that carried front-runners to great lengths and gave deep closers virtually no chance.  Just Kidding isn’t 11 lengths better than the $16,000 claiming group he destroyed in the opener; at least trainer Steve Knapp hopes he isn’t, because the Florida-bred gelding now resides in Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn following a claim.  Looking forward to seeing how ambitious the new connections get with their new merchandise.

Class dropper Copper Fever appeared to be the goods in the third when showing up in $25,000 claimer that originally was carded for the Hillside course but was taken off the turf.  This almost looked like a logical spot – she was still a maiden as a 4-year-old and her high-profile breeders don’t need horses like her – but Richard Mandella doesn’t give anything away and his droppers always must be viewed with some degree of suspicion.  Copper Fever was never going well at 6/5 and wound up fourth after being within striking range to the head of the lane.  She goes to Peter Miller, who can raise her, drop her, or run her just about anywhere he wants to next time.  At least she passed the vet; third-place finisher Gone to Town was a voided claim and was sent back to Hector Palma.

The whole world knew about Cruel Intention, so if you took the debuting Smiling Tiger colt in the straight pool in the fourth for state-bred juveniles you got 20 cents on the dollar.  On the lead throughout and winning with something left, the Bob Baffert-trained colt eventually checked in 5 ½ lengths in front of Teacher’s Treasure, who was 15 ½ lengths clear of the others.  The Beyer number of 81 was good – especially for a Cal-bred – but at this time of the year graded stakes winning 2-year-olds usually achieve numbers in the 90’s.  No matter, ‘Intention will stick to state-bred company for the time being and likely will reappear in the $200,000 Golden State Juvenile over seven furlongs at Santa Anita Nov. 3.

Similar to Just Kidding’s runaway romp in the opener, Mo See Cal’s front-running 10 ½ length win in the fifth was obviously biased aided, so her 94 Beyer speed figure – 17 points higher than her previous career top – must be viewed with a degree of skepticism.  She’s a state-bred Uncle Mo filly and that’s a good thing, but this first-level allowance field lacked depth, so be careful when she’s raised a level or into state-bred stakes company next time out.  Also, before you give Queen Shelly Ann extra credit for rallying wide from mid-pack to win a maiden claiming sprint for older fillies and mares in the sixth race, be aware that her winning Beyer number was 48.  That’s not good enough to beat winners at any level on this circuit.

Not sure what to make of Into Rissa’s performance in the sixth race, a weak state-bred maiden special weight sprint for older fillies and mares that was won by the normally faint-hearted Coco Kisses, who clearly benefitted from the pro-speed bias.  Into Rissa hesitated at the start and fell almost 15 lengths back after the opening quarter, then remarkably made up a ton of ground to wind up second, beaten just over two lengths.  On paper, the effort looks highly-commendable but then you realize she’s now had 12 chances and is still winless.  Also, the Beyer figure (68) was modest at best.

S Y Sky was extremely well-meant in the featured off-the-turf five-furlong California Distaff Handicap and went off as the 2-1 favorite despite being away since July of 2017.  The daughter of Grazen ran her race but Love a Honeybadger got the jump on her early and – with the help of the bias – gamely held sway.  These two will meet again somewhere down the road.



 Booliscious stood in the gate from the rail, raced greenly, fell far back, then suddenly figured out what she was expected to do and finished with interest to rally from more than 15 lengths back to wind up sixth, beaten just five, in her racing debut vs. maiden $50,000 juvenile Cal-bred fillies.  The daughter of Ghostzapper was listed as having been purchased for $125,000 at the Barretts April Sale but apparently hadn’t shown a thing in the morning, so she was entered for the modest-by-comparison tag by trainer Craig Lewis and received no action at 15-1.  Yeah, they crawled home, and the Beyer number assigned to winner All Tea All Shade of 41 hardly inspires, but if anything is worth following from today’s opener it is Booliscious.

Fourth in her debut last July two-turning on grass at Del Mar, Amuse returned for her second career start sprinting on dirt (usually it’s done the other way around) and drew off in convincingly fashion to graduate by more than five lengths in the fourth while earning a better-than-par 82 Beyer speed figure.  Clearly, she can sprint, but we suspect the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro eventually will be just as effective routing (which is why Mandella ran her long to begin with).  Based on pedigree alone, she should improve with maturity and could still wind up being a very nice sort.  Her dam, also trained by Mandella, won her first four career starts including the Railbird Stakes-G3 at Hollywood Park, and also produced Bombard, an excellent turf sprinter who won the down-the-hill Siren Lure Stakes in July.



Two horses that had been voided claims in their previous starts – Allaboutaction and Junior Gilliam – finished one-two in the fourth race, but not in the order the punters expected.  Allaboutaction left at the ridiculously low price of 30 cents on the dollar but couldn’t quite hang on.  However, this time he passed the state’s post-race examinations and went to trainer Javier Sierra for $32,000.  Good claim.  No, not really.  Junior Gilliam has his issues, too, but on the same day that the Dodgers advanced to the National League Championship Series the team’s former second baseman’s namesake could have been played on that factor alone.

Something more than an allegiance to a local home team might have been required to back Lakerball in the Surfer Girl Stakes.  A maiden claiming winner with Beyers in the 50’s and making her first start around two turns and her first on grass, Lakerball was quickly sent to establish the running and somehow managed to keep going, holding on by a desperate head at 33-1 over Lady Prancealot, who had her chance, kept to her task, but was simply held at bay.  As for the unbeaten odds-on favorite Summering, she was buried on the rail (or in some form of traffic) throughout most of the race yet was beaten less than two lengths.  That said, there’s some doubt as to how much run she would have produced if she had ever gotten clear.  Her connections certain can justify tossing out the race, but our eyes tell us that, trouble or not, she was far below the form she had displayed at Del Mar and in our mind now clearly ranks well below her New York counterpart, Newspaperofrecord, among North American-based two-year-old fillies on grass.

The boys’ turn in the 2-year-old turf division came in the eighth race, the Zuma Beach Stakes, which was clocked in 1:34.35, a time .88 seconds faster than the Surfer Girl.  King of Speed, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Turf in his last outing, duplicated that performance by producing the final run inside, just as he had done last time out.  He’s a big colt and not terrible handy, but Gary Stevens knows him well and fits him perfectly, and the son of Jimmy Creed was able to wear down the pace-pressing favorite Much Better in the final sixteenth to win by more than a length.  The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in Kentucky is next, but we don’t suppose that Aidan O’Brien is too concerned.  As for Baffert’s colt, we were expecting a bit more fight from Much Better when he was challenged late.  The distance shouldn’t have been an issue; the son of Pioneerof the Nile, who is bred for dirt on both sides, probably will go back to the main track and stay there.



The Sunday opener – a nine-furlong optional claimer on turf for fillies and mares – projected to be slowly run early, and if you identified Jazaalah as the controlling speed you probably cashed a ticket at $9.80.  Exiting a series of quick, shorter races, she certainly looked capable of making the running but even those who backed her probably didn’t expect to see her completely loose on the lead through an opening half in 50 4/5 seconds.  Still, favored Siberian Iris had every chance from the top of the lane to the wire but was never going to get by; she’s now been favored in five of her 11 career starts and has failed every time.  Meanwhile, Lynn’s Legacy, wrangled back after the break by Rafael Bejarano, was given an impossible task considering the race shape and ran the best race of all when closing against the grain to wind up fourth, beaten just over a length.  On our watch, the Doug O’Neill-trained mare came the final quarter in 22 3/5 seconds and deserved better.

It was great to see Skye Diamonds regain her winning form in the L. A. Woman; she had spun her wheels over the deep, tiring Del Mar surface and failed to launch a rally in the Rancho Bernardo when essentially facing the same group.  Today she got her traction and had little difficultly wearing down heavily-favored Anonymity in the final sixteenth.  The Bill Spawr-trained daughter of First Dude is scheduled to be sold in Kentucky next month but could make her next and perhaps final start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint just a couple of days before that.  Anonymity certainly has talent, but this is the third time in six career starts that she’s been beaten at odds-on.  Looks like it’s time to accept that she’s not as good as we thought she was going to be.

Just Grazed Me had an excuse when she finishing a well-beaten second in the Torrey Pines Stakes, a graded-stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar in her first try around two turns.  The daughter of Grazen lost a considerable amount of ground in that race and then flattened out late when beaten more than three lengths by True Royalty while seeing her Beyer speed figure drop 10 points off her previous stakes winning sprint score.  But after finishing second again – this time in a first-level allowance main track miler while beaten more than 11 lengths by the highly impressive (and arguably vastly improved) Secret Spice with no visual excuse, it’s time to concede that she is much, much better around one turn and should return to sprinting for good.  Grazen could stay a middle-distance and has sired good middle-distance winners, but Just Graze Me is out of a Cuvee mare.  You’re not going to run too far with that bottom line.



Emtech had worked well enough to win at first asking if properly spotted, and the son of Concord Point certainly was in the proper race in the third, a maiden $75,000 claimer for juveniles.  The Kaleem Shah homebred dug down deep and found more when bravely holding off Haydens Havoc, who had the length of the lane to get by but never could.  Somebody though Emtech was worth the money but the claim was voided when Emtech failed to pass the state vet’s post-race inspection.

It’s Gonna Hurt just won a high-priced maiden claimer with a moderate speed number over the Del Mar main track, but The Speakeasy Stakes was a five-furlong grass test, so with City Zip on the bottom side of the pedigree trainer Brian Koriner figured why not give the son of Violence a chance?  After all, a 2-year-old who breaks his maiden this time of the year on this circuit doesn’t have many choices.  An $80,000 2-year-old in training buy in Ocala in April, It’s Gonna Hurt showed good gate speed from the rail to establish the running and then fought off Los Alamitos maiden winner Whooping Jay, who rallied inside, and the Wesley Ward filly Mae Never No (who had every chance outside) to hold sway gamely.  The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint mostly likely is next.  Well-backed Hartel, who had a couple of hard races at Del Mar, was flat and uninterested, winding up a dull fifth in the six-runner field.

It was Roy H’s turn this time in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, with the veteran gelding wearing down stable mate and pacesetter Distinctive B, while main rival Ransom the Moon was making no impression in the final furlong to settle for a non-threatening third.  All three reportedly are headed to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and while the defending BC champion Roy H has a history of rising to the occasion, none of these are going to worry Imperial Hint if that Eastern-based horse shows up with his “A” game.  Last year, Roy H earned a 115 Beyer figure when winning the BC Sprint; by way of comparison he was assigned 100 for today’s victory.  What’s 15 points at six furlongs on the Beyer scale?  Six lengths.

It’s a good thing the photo finish camera was invented 80 years ago, otherwise, the stewards might have declared Fly to Mars the winner of the City of Hope Mile, a valuable win-and-you’re in Breeders’ Cup race, rather than Sharp Samurai, whose rider (Gary Stevens) dropped his whip inside the furlong pole.  No matter to Sharp Samurai, who kept on bravely and got the money nonetheless thanks to a well-timed head bob.  Both could meet again in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs but despite each being thoroughly genuine, consistent, admirable, we’ll doubt they’ll be any match for whatever six horses the Europeans choose to send over for the race.



We rarely see Australian horses migrate to North America – the form is sometimes difficult to classify, purse money is very strong, and you can’t buy them cheap – but good ones can come from anywhere and Oleksandra, who’d had a couple of runs down under, certainly caught the eye in her U.S. debut in the second race.  The daughter of Animal Kingdom from the good race mare Alexandra Rose was foaled on Southern Hemisphere time – she’s an October foal so she’s actually just turning four – and still has plenty of upside.  Knocked back hard at the start and all but eliminated in this downhill turf sprint, the Neil Drysdale-trained filly under Mike Smith bided her time until inside the furlong pole and then produced an impressive turn of foot to be up in time by a neck.  There probably wasn’t much behind her but she did gallop out far in front as if to indicate that with added distance she can be highly competitive on the raise.

In the featured seventh race, a first-level nine-furlong turf allowance restricted to 3-year-olds, Andesh was a very pleasing winner while leaving his previous form far behind, just as trainer Phil D’Amato expected him to.  Second to Mendelssohn in his debut at The Curragh last August and never off the board in five starts in Ireland as a 2-year-old, the son of Medicean failed to make any real impression in a pair of Del Mar races (most recently in the Del Mar Derby when he was buried inside and couldn’t mount a rally) but got a confidence building score here against a reasonable group while flying home the final furlong in 11 2/5 seconds.  One would assume the Twilight Derby-G2 Nov. 4 will be next.



 Jockey Tyler Baze was riding Subic Bay for the first time in the Thursday opener, a $20,000 claiming miler on grass for fillies and mares.  He probably was expecting a bit more turn of foot from the veteran mare when a small hole appeared to open a furlong from home.  But Subic Bay, a prototype grinder, couldn’t quicken when asked and instead got locked in behind the traffic before being forced to steady sharply when the hole closed completely.  The Jeff Mullins-trained mare wound up fourth, beaten just over two lengths, after which Baze claimed foul against the second and third place finishers, but the stewards ruled that Subic Bay was trying to find room when none really existed and made no change.  If Baze rides her back, he’ll most likely change tactics and ask the mare to commence her rally earlier while taking the overland route to produce a longer, steady move.  It might work.

Pitino, a Union Rags colt that brought $950,000 at the OBS March sale last year, was making just his third career start in the second race, a main track miler for older maidens.  He’d shown a bit of promise in his first two outings, a troubled sixth last November at Del Mar and then, in his comeback, a runner-up effort (though subsequently disqualified for drifting out) in a five-furlong turf sprint in late August.  Much better was expected when stretching out for the first and returning to dirt while facing what appeared to a modest field.  But after establishing a very easy lead through crawling splits, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt waved the white flag at the head of the lane and faded readily, winding up third, beaten almost six lengths.  At this stage of his career, he’s heading nowhere.  The winner turned out to be Pleasant d’Oro, who appreciated stalking tactics before kicking clear with authority while earning a career top 84 Beyer speed figure.  This was just his fifth career start for the $350,000 yearling purchase by Medaglia d’Oro, so it appears trainer Simon Callaghan has something to work with.

After finished an excellent second in the Generous Portion Stakes in her racing debut at Del Mar in late August, Mucho Unusual dropped into a maiden state-bred sprint for easy pickings in the third and demolished her out-classed foes by more than eight lengths.  The margin could have been considerably more had Flavien Prat not eased up the daughter of Mucho Macho Man inside the sixteenth pole.  She’s certainly bred to run long and, being out of an Unusual Heat mare, handle turf, so trainer Tim Yakteen has a few options.  There’s a whole lot money to be made when sticking with state-bred competition with this type of filly.



Today’s third race was supposed to be a hot maiden sprint for juvenile fillies primarily due to the presence of the debuting Inshannity, a daughter of Ghostzopper who had been impressive in the morning for a barn (Baffert) that in recent months pretty much never loses with well-meant first-timers.  However, Inshannity turned up a vet scratch in the morning – there’s a flu bug going around Baffert’s barn – leaving the race to two other highly-regarded newcomers, It’sjustanillusion and Enamored.  The former, a daughter of Uncle Mo from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn left at 4/5 and never looked like losing after quickly establishing the lead in hand and dominating throughout while earning a strong speed figure.  Meanwhile, the Richard Mandella-trained Enamored (Curlin) didn’t get the clearest of runs inside and but kept on steadily to be second, beaten just under three lengths.  It was a promising effort for a filly who isn’t bred to sprint and really doesn’t want to.  Good things can be expected from both down the road.

As if we needed a reminder, there is no such thing as a sure thing in thoroughbred racing.  Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, it was truly shocking to see how poorly 10-cents-on-the-dollar Abel Tasman performed in the Zenyatta Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup win-and-you’re-in prep for the BC Distaff that was in somewhat embarrassing fashion won by her stablemate, Vale Dori (herself a beaten favorite in her last pair).  As brilliant as she can be when she’s in the mood, Abel Tasman simply didn’t feel like competing today, and nobody – most notably jockey Mike Smith – was going to have any luck changing her mind.  First, she didn’t want to be loaded into the gate.  Then, once loaded, she didn’t want to come out.  When she was asked to join the party, she never really did, falling behind by 10 lengths during the early stages despite slow early fractions and then pretty much staying there throughout.  While it’s entirely possible that she went into race sick (tests were taken but have yet to be disclosed), this marked the fourth time in her 15-race career that she’s failed to win as an odds-on favorite and it makes one wonder which version of Abel Tasman we’ll see next month’s BC Distaff at Churchill Downs, where she finished off the boards at 3/5 in the La Troienne Stakes in May.

Liam the Charmer made it two-for-two since being gelded with his win in the 10f John Henry Turf Championship Stakes, rallying against the grain to be up in time in a race that lost the likely heavy favorite, Fashion Business, who came up with a problem after entries were taken and reportedly is done for the year.  The Mike McCarthy-trained son of Smart Strike – fittingly bred by John Henry’s trainer Ron McAnally and his wife, Debbie – originally sold as a yearling for $500,000 and then went through the auction ring again for $200,000 last November as a “racing or stallion” prospect.  McCarthy, who has trained Liam the Charmer all along, said after the race that the Breeders’ Cup Turf – which clearly would be a mammoth step up competition, will be given some consideration.



Improbable was this week’s “Baffert’s best 2-year-old” appointee and was bet accordingly (2/5) in the six-furlong opener that also featured another hot first-timer, the Simon Callaghan trained, Stretford End, plus the recent Eclipse Thoroughbred private purchase Gray Magician, who’d had a couple prior decent runs.  This could easily wind up being the most productive juvenile races this meeting.  Improbable had to be ridden early to stay within range of the lead and then was put to a drive at the quarter pole, but close home he exerted his superiority to win by a measured neck while giving every indication that he’ll need a route of ground before truly showing his best.  “I was thinking about running him on the turf going a mile (as a precursor to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf),” Baffert said after the race, owning to the colt’s sire, City Zip.  “But Elliott (Walden) said that was too crazy.”  What’s next?  We’ll just play it by ear.  Stretford End (Will Take Charge) lost little in defeat, has the benefit of facing maidens again next time to gain added experience (he’ll be odds-on), and has a chance to win an important race or two down the road himself.

The first five-furlong turf race beginning on the backstretch of the course proper was taken by the class dropper Forest Chatter, who had won five previous Hillside turf sprints.  The veteran gelding rallied from about five lengths back at the 3/8ths pole to win the second race going away.  We’ll need a lot more than just one race to determine if this course produces any kind of pace bias, but It was good to see that a closer will have a chance to win in these newly-created abbreviated turf sprints.

In the fourth race, a decent maiden juvenile turf miler, second-timer Omaha Beach was a beaten favorite again, this time failing to capitalize on a dream run when unable to get past Flying Scotsman despite having the length of the lane to do so.  If you’re going to be a good horse, you must win when the race is handed to you on a silver platter, though to be fair Flying Scotsman – featured in a Black Book segment following a promising Del Mar sprint debut – has a chance to be more than useful.  Galloping out, the son of English Channel never did allow Omaha Beach to get by him.  Baffert’s first-timer Power Player hadn’t shown a thing in the morning on dirt, but his dam (Cambiocorsa) was a turf terror around these parts in her day and is the granddam of the top European 3-year-old Roaring Lion, so it made sense to debut the Distorted Humor colt on turf.  Outrun early, he made a mild move into the lane and finished evenly to be third, beaten just over three lengths, without posing a threat.  As debut runs go, it wasn’t the best, but not the worst, either.

Game Winner has put together a rather impressive three-race resume.  Following a smart debut maiden sprint win, the son of Candy Ride took full advantage of a favorable draw to take the Del Mar Futurity over seven eighths and then was even more impressive when stretching out for the first time in the American Pharoah Stakes, winning by more than four while doing to pacesetter Rowayton pretty much the same thing he had done to him at Del Mar.  His Beyer numbers have risen from 83 to 93 to 97, so on paper, he looks terrific, and there’s a strong likelihood he’ll be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  But is he Baffert’s next American Pharoah or Justify, or even Mastery?  Not ready to go there just yet.

It took Bellafina 28 seconds to complete the final quarter mile in the 7f Del Mar Debutante (she still won!), so her prospects of improving with added distance didn’t seem particularly bright.  But give full credit to trainer Simon Callaghan, who removed blinkers in hopes that it would help the high-strung daughter of Quality Road to relax.  Switching leads – something she failed to do in both of her graded stakes winning races at Del Mar – came naturally this time and she couldn’t have looked better winning the mile and one-sixteenth Chandelier Stakes by 6 ½ lengths from a very nice filly, the pacesetting Vibrance, who was more than four lengths clear of the others.  A scopey, lengthy sort, Bellafina looks very much like what a top-quality filly is supposed to and earned a legitimate speed figure while coming home mostly in hand.  She will take some beating in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies.

First Vasilika had to wear down the high-quality Cambodia, who had taken a clear lead entering the lane, and then she had to withstand the strong late kick from the talented 3-year-old filly Paved.  A six-race winning streak appeared in jeopardy, but Vasilika would have none of it, holding sway by a half-length in the win-and-your-in Rodeo Drive Stakes over 10 furlongs on turf.  Claimed for $40,000 last February by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Vasilika now has won nine of her last 10 but wasn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and is no sure thing to be given the chance in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.  “We’ll think about it, explore our options,” said Hollendorfer after the race.

Accelerate seems certain to be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic after he overcame a slow start and a wide trip to win the Awesome Again Stakes from the obviously dead-short West Coast.  On pure form, the 5-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky is impossible to fault, though West Coast, who was second in the BC Classic last year, has a chance to produce a significant forward move in Kentucky.  What is concerning, though, is the proximity of 57-1 third place finisher Isotherm (beaten less than three lengths) and the sluggish final furlong (13 3/5 seconds) that puts the strength of the race in question.  Furthermore, the assigned Beyer figure of 100 was the lowest of the three major BC Classic preps run today when compared with the 108 achieved by Mind Your Biscuits in the Lukas Classic and the 103 earned by Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  Something to chew on.



Stormy Liberal captured his third straight added money event when nosing out his Peter Miller-trained stablemate Conquest Tsunami in the Eddie D. Stakes down the Hillside Course.  Stormy Liberal now has won his last three races by a combined total of about 12 inches, and that’s not an exaggeration.  Both Miller sprinters should be headed to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup in peak form but be aware the sand-based grass course at Churchill Downs is an entirely different surface than the pool table tops they’re used to competing over in California.  Stormy Liberal has never won outside of California and has finished off the board in three of four starts away from home.

Captivate had to come down in the eighth race.  The Mike Puype-trained sprinter clearly drifted over at least a lane to take the path of Saratoga Morning approaching the sixteenth pole, forcing that one to steady sharply, and although Captivate’s margin of victory was more than two lengths it was impossible to state that the incident did not impact the order of finish.  This was in direct contrast to the stewards’ inexcusable decision to disqualify 40-1 Gray Admiral, a “much-the-best” winner of the first race. It’s true that Gray Admiral, under low profile jockey Ruben Fuentes, angled out sharply to avoid clipping heels in the upper stretch causing a chain reaction that somewhat bothered Iron Alex (who finished second, anyway, and was never going to win) and Point Guard who was “brushed” (the comment in Equibase) and then had every chance with more than a furlong out but simply got out-finished.  The vote in the booth was 2-1.


Jeff Siegel’s Blog: Santa Anita Weekly Post Mortem (November 6, 2018)

Jeff Siegel's Blog |