Jeff Siegel’s Blog: Santa Anita Weekly Post-Mortem (thru March 3, 2019)

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.



After displaying enough ability to finish second in her debut in a maiden $20,000 claiming sprint for 3-year-old fillies in January, Miss Lady Ann was raised to the maiden $50,000 level by trainer Jack Carava in today’s opener that originally was scheduled for turf.  The supposed tougher spot may have given pause to some handicappers, but we viewed the class hike as a sign of confidence by a trainer not known for pitching his horses too high.  That Carava thought enough of Miss Lady Ann to protect her from would-be claiming barns had to be viewed in a highly positive light, and that, coupled with other positive factors (a competitive speed figure, a cozy outside draw, a healthy work tab since raced and an attractive morning line of 6-1) made the daughter of Munnings a major player and a “must use” in rolling exotic play.  Leaving as the third choice in the six-runner field at 2.80-to-1, she easily ran past the well-meant Bob Baffert-trained first-timer Appolina at the head of the lane and then drew off while displaying an efficient, athletic stride to register a nearly four length victory, with the runner-up more than five clear of the rest.  Her assigned Beyer speed figure of 65 represented an eight-point hike from her debut number, with better to come with more experience.  She looks more than capable of coming back in a starter’s allowance $50,000 affair and winning again.



In his first four lifetime starts, Stubbins had never failed to produce a forward move, having earned Beyer speed figures of 70-72-79-80 in a career that was launched last summer at Del Mar with a pair of promising in-the-frame main track dirt sprints for 2-year-olds.  Given the remainder of the year off and then returning in early January for trainer Doug O’Neill, the son of Morning Line graduated in a competitive maiden turf sprint in courageous fashion by a nose and then scored again in a first-level allowance Hillside affair, surging late to be up in time by a neck.  Clearly showing an affinity for grass, Stubbins was expected to win again in today’s Pasadena Stakes in his first start around two-turns, but when the rains came causing the transfer of the race to a sloppy main track, we expected O’Neill to scratch his colt and wait for another turf event.  But this barn always has been aggressive, and they stood fast, the wet track condition be damned.  Stubbins wasn’t bothered in the least, as he drew off in powerful fashion to score by eight lengths after leaving from the rail and being sent from the bell to establish the running.  Once again he produced a career top, this time earning an 83 Beyer speed figure.  He’s currently on nobody’s Triple Crown list and we serious doubt his connections are thinking in those terms, but if this colt continues to be managed in a conservative fashion he has a chance to develop into an extremely productive 3-year-old with the ability to win a very good race in due time.

Include is the only son of Big ‘Cap winner Broad Brush still in service that we’re aware of and has been especially successful over the years as a sire of fillies and off-track runners.  Proud Emma checked both boxes in today’s eighth race, a first-level allowance sprint over a very wet surface that was expected to move her up a ton.  However, to win the race she would have to defeat the much-hyped Flor de La Mar, who ran off and hid in her debut in mid-January, after which trainer Bob Baffert began contemplating a game plan to have peak for the Kentucky Oaks.  But Flor de La Mar failed to act in the going – she started swimming after a half mile and faded readily – and saw Proud Emma roll on by with ease when turned loose in the final furlong, eventually winning by more than two lengths while actually being eased up in the final 70 yards.  The off track and the race-shape (fast early, slow late) clearly benefitted Proud Emma, a former maiden-claimer, and it’ll be interesting to see if she can replicate this type of performance for trainer Peter Miller under normal circumstances next time out.  As for Flor de La Mar, we wouldn’t give up on her just yet.



Roadster was one of many highly-touted Bob Baffert-trained juveniles last summer at Del Mar, and the son of Quality Road fulfilled expectations when winning his debut by more than four lengths and then finishing a highly-respectable third in the Del Mar Futurity-G1 behind stable mate and eventual champion Game Winner.  But Roadster developed a breathing problem and underwent surgery, which cost him the remainder of his juvenile campaign.  Today’s eighth race, a first-level allowance main track miler that also attracted the well-regarded Nolo Contesto, would tell Baffert if Roadster had made it all the way back.  The answer was an emphatic yes.  Settling behind the leaders to top of the lane, $525,000 yearling purchase accelerated impressively when given his cue by jockey Mike Smith and drew off with plenty left in the tank to register a 2 ½ length victory while earning a career top 91 Beyer figure.  So, what’s next?  Probably a trip back east in search of Derby points.  This is a genuinely good colt. A mile and one-quarter type colt?  We’ll get more clues next time.

Foster Boi had trained well enough to make our “Primed and Ready” list so it wasn’t a surprise when the first-timer by Boisterous was bet off the board in today’s seventh race, a downhill turf sprint for state-bred 3-yar-olds.  Settling in mid-pack and then responding readily when called upon, the Phil D’Amato-trained colt ran past his outclassed rivals with an impressive display of acceleration to win going away with a solid 72 Beyer speed figure.  Since he’s out of a Corinthian mare, Foster Boi should have no difficulty projecting this form around two-turns, and as a California-bred he’ll have plenty of opportunities to earn black type and good money down the road.  Meanwhile, seventh-place finisher Flicflac, a first-timer from the Howard Zucker barn that left at 60-1 and trailed by more than 15 lengths in the opening stages, picked it up late and wound up six lengths back at the wire before galloping out with interest.  He’s probably maiden-claiming material but might be able to run a bit.



It took eight career races for Smoovie to finally get a chance to stretch-out and the daughter of Square Eddie performed like she’s always wanted to be a router in today’s fifth race for older maiden state-bred fillies and mares.  Relaxing beautifully one off the rail while stalking the pace, she responded readily when straightened for home and then held sway when challenged by the comebacker La La Land to win in stylish fashion while getting the final furlong in very respectable 12.03 seconds.  Worth noting is that the winner galloped out far in front while giving indication that she was waiting on her rivals in the final furlong and had more in the tank than you might think.  We’re going to give Smoovie a big chance to repeat on the raise vs. entry-level state-bred rivals next time.



Trainer Richard Baltas saddled two of the five starters in the opener, Justin’s Quest, the 6/5 morning line favorite, and Paladar, listed at 6-1 and presumably entered simply to make the one-mile maiden special weight race go, as conventional thinking might have it.  But a closer examination of the past performances revealed a much different picture.  Baltas has superior stats with first-off-the-claims, so Paladar figured to improve a bunch.  Add to that the presence of leading jockey Joel Rosario, an extraordinary series of recent workouts (including one in which he actually bested Justin’s Quest in a team drill), and with the kind of early speed that practically guaranteed him an easy-front running trip, Paladar offered a highly attractive gambling opportunity.  Bet down to 7/2 and as expected inheriting the role as the controlling speed, the Street Cry gelding cruised through soft splits to the head of the lane and then quickened when asked to win going away by more than five lengths.  His Beyer number of 89 represents a remarkable 30-point improvement over his career best figure and sets him up for another win when he returns to face starter’s allowance foes next time out.  While it’s true that Paladar accomplished his victory under pristine conditions (on the lead through easy fractions), we don’t think he’s necessarily a need-the-lead type, but that’s something he’ll have an opportunity to prove when and if the situation demands it.

Billy Morey, one of the sharpest claiming trainers on the grounds, appears to have made an astute purchase with Kazan, winner of a $40,000 seller over a mile on grass in the seventh race.  Kazan managed to wear down loose-on-the-lead Start a Running in the final strides but did so after overcoming a 3-to-4 wide trip every step of the way without cover.  That Kazan was able to muster a final furlong in 11 and small change to get the money makes his performance much more impressive that it will appear on paper.  A successful one-level raise in class seems well within his capabilities for his new connections.

Holy Ghost was a Day Maker for us in the nightcap, a maiden $50,000 turf affair for older horses, and while he wound up third beaten nearly three lengths behind the highly-logical Combat Zone, he ran as well as we hoped he would in what turned out to be a fast, highly-rated race for the level.  Making his first start for Vladimir Cerin, his first as a gelding, and his first since last May, the Ghostzapper gelding was simply given too much to do, lagging far back for six furlongs and then producing a strong late kick while very wide from the quarter pole home into the teeth of the race-flow.  With this race under his belt, we’ll have no hesitation about backing him in a similar spot next time.



Bullion brought $120,000 at last year’s OBS March sale, so it was hardly a sign of confidence by Jerry Hollendorfer when he entered the colt almost a year later to debut in a maiden $75,000 claimer in today’s second race.  Additionally, the son of Ghostzapper received little in the way of wagering action, leaving at 9-1, considerably up from his 7/2 morning line.  But give him credit, Bullion ran well, pressing the pace throughout and staying on as best he could to finish second (beaten 3 ¼ lengths) by the experienced Platinum Nights while winding up seven lengths clear of the rest in a race that was stronger than par according to the speed figure.  We doubt his connections will raise him to the straight maiden level, but at least the barn knows they have something they can work with, and on pure pedigree Bullion actually is bred to better routing than sprinting, so there’s that.  If they really want to protect him, they might look at the Golden Gate Fields condition book, where straight maiden competition almost always is softer than high priced maiden claiming races on this circuit.

Galloping Mischief was a surprise debut winner in today’s sixth race, a Hillside sprint for sophomores that didn’t appear deep contention.  The son of Into Mischief hadn’t shown a whole lot in the a.m. for trainer Richard Mandella (but never had a chance to train on turf) and was ice on the tote, eventually leaving at 11-1, almost triple his 4-1 morning line.  While the strength of the race is suspect, the late turn of foot by Galloping Mischief (5.75 seconds) was actually quite impressive.  Whether he turns out to be a late-running sprinter or just as effective over a distance of ground will be determined in due time, but with Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop on the bottom side of the pedigree we’re going to assume that trainer Richard Mandella will be anxious to stretch him out soon.  We also suspect Mandella will keep him on grass.

Vasilika improved her career record over the Santa Anita turf course to nine wins in 10 starts by capturing the Buena Vista Stakes-G2 as the 4/5 favorite.  Truthfully, she never looked like losing and her 1 ½ length margin of victory isn’t an accurate gauge of her dominance.  This win was small consolation to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who in the morning lost Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway to a fatal training breakdown.  Tough game.



Space Talk had offered good, consistent form in minor handicap races in England last year, but it was tough to gauge how she fit in a competitive first-level allowance turf sprint when making her U.S. debut in today’s fifth race.  Spy Ring, a much troubled third in a similar spot last month that was highlighted in a Black Book segment, this time enjoyed clear sailing and won as much best, but Space Talk, in finishing third, showed enough to warrant a close look next time, especially if tried over a distance of ground.  The daughter of High Chaparral was a miler overseas and may have been caught for speed against this group of course specialists, but that shouldn’t be an issue next time on the stretch-out for trainer Anna Meah.  Space Talk was winner over the all-weather surface at Lingfield last fall, so the connections have the option of looking north to Golden Gate Fields for easy pickings if a suitable race comes up at the proper time.



First-time routing is a potentially lucrative angle.  First time turf – especially with Unusual Heat on the bottom-side of the pedigree – also is a dangerous angle. Inheriting the role as the controlling speed from a good inside draw is a slam-dunk angl.  Put them all together at 10-1 and you have a play, in this case Mucho Unusual, who dominated her rivals in the California Cup Oaks after setting slow splits and then kicking clear when turned loose into the lane.  A beaten short-priced favorite in her last two starts sprinting on dirt, the daughter of Mucho Macho Man probably should stay on grass from now on and we suspect that’s what trainer Tim Yakteen is planning to do.  Runner-up Lippy (Square Eddie), making her first start since last August, was a stakes winner on dirt as a 2-year-old, so trainer Doug O’Neill can probably look in both directions, though we suspect she’ll eventually prove best on the sod.  As for the 6/5 favorite Apache Princess, she was wide throughout and not persevered with by jockey Kent Desormeaux through the lane while winding fifth, beaten seven lengths.  She was being brought back in eight days and simply couldn’t handle the quick turnaround.  Additionally, this was her fourth start of the meeting, so a vacation seems warranted.  She can bounce back.



It’s not unusual for a horse to produce a significant forward move in his first start following a claim; often times the new trainer finds something to correct or tries something new with regards to equipment, distance, surface, or tactics.  Blitzkrieg had just earned a career top speed figure for trainer Richard Mandella when he won a restricted (nw-2) $25,000 claimer down the hill in January but was claimed out of the race by Doug O’Neill.  This stable has superior recent stats with the first-off-the-claim angle, so it was hardly a stretch to expect the son of War Front to produce a forward move, but not this much.  Drafting into a perfect stalking position through the openeing half mile, Blitzkrieg accelerated suddenly and blew past the leaders with an unexpected turn of foot that only good horses have before hitting the wire six lengths clear of the stunned also-rans while earning a 90 Beyer figure, eight points better than his career best.  The gelding has all of his allowance conditions and likely will use them, either sprinting or routing.

Angel Alessandra, with the highly-popular route-to-spring angle in her chart, added blinkers for the first time and crushed her first-level allowance rivals in the third race, a Hillside turf affair for 3-year-old fillies.  She gives the impression that she’s most comfortable as late-running sprinter, though she did break her maiden over a mile as a two-year-old last summer at Del Mar.  If he believes it was mostly the blinkers that woke her up, trainer Peter Miller could again opt to stretch her out, where most of the money is.  Third-place finisher Gallovie, making her U.S. debut after displaying some promise as a two-year-old in England, seemed poised to pounce on the leaders approaching the dirt crossing but was forced to steady sharply and  lost all of her momentum.  She wasn’t going to win but we would have liked to see how much of a late kick she would have been able to produce.  The Baltas-trained filly probably will return in a similar spot next time.



Hard Not to Love, a one-eyed first-timer by Hard Spun and a half-sister to Tropical Park Derby winner Solemn Tribute, brought $400,000 at Keeneland as a yearling and had trained quite well for her debut in today’s first race, a maiden special weight sprint for sophomore fillies.  She was expected to receive a ton of action on the tote, so it was somewhat surprising that she left at what appeared to be overlay odds of 3-1 in a field that, quite frankly, didn’t appear all that strong on paper.  We can only surmise that the major punters were a bit reluctant to “send it in” on a first-time starter trained by John Shirreffs, whose record with debut winners is – how shall we put it? – lacking.  But Hard Not to Love proved to be the exception to the rule and graduated at first asking in a very pleasing manner.  Her 77 Beyer number was useful, not great, but hardly represents what she’ll be capable of with experience, distance, and even turf.  She’s also Canadian-bred and her connections may choose to exploit that option down the road.

We’re going to give Play Money another chance after the hot-shot first-timer from the Hofmans barn failed at 6/5 when facing an admittedly modest band state-bred maidens in the fifth race.  The Triple Crown-nominated son of Unusual Heat appeared to be plenty fit and ready based on a series of sharp workouts, but when the latch sprung he simply stood there, and then, after rushing up wildly to press the pace, lost his air in the final furlong, eventually winding up fourth, beaten nearly six lengths.  Let’s hope he leaves with his field next time.  The winner turned out to be the second-timer Prodigal Son, himself a victim of trouble in his debut last month.  However, the 62 Beyer number came up light, so he’ll be hard pressed to win on the raise.



Enlisting has all the makings of a shrewd claim by trainer Bob Hess. In her third career start but her first on dirt and her first in a maiden seller, the daughter of Candy Ride left her previous modest form far behind by dismantling her rivals by more than 14 lengths in today’s fifth race while earning a Beyer speed figure of 73, a significant improvement off her previous race’s career top of 60.  And the margin of victory (and the number) would have been greater had she not been allowed to coast home in the final furlong.  She only brought $50,000 at the Timonium 2-year-old in training sale last May, so either she had issues or didn’t preview particularly well, but whatever the case she’s worth a lot more than that now.  Hess, who is not averse to checking out the Golden Gate Fields condition book, might look to the north to find a much easier allowance spot than he’s liable to locate here.



We’re not saying that he’ll be this good, but the first-timer Bump Bailey gave about as good of an impression of Roy H as trainer Peter Miller could have hoped for when winning at 12-1 in today’s eighth race finale for maiden 3-year-olds.  Completely ignored on the tote at 12-1 – Miller had three in the field and they all trained at San Luis Rey Downs, so who knew? – the $190,000 auction purchase quickly made the lead in the five and one-half furlong dash and never looked like losing, checking in 3 ½ lengths clear of the pack without being asked for anything remotely close to his best.   While most of the bettors didn’t latch on – they were probably mesmerized by Stretford End at 2/5 – there was evidence if you looked hard enough that Bump Bailey had plenty of talent.  Last May at the Barretts two-year-old-in-training sale, the son of Fed Biz breezed a furlong in 10 1/5 and looked like a jackrabbit doing it.  His 91 Beyer speed figure tells us he can leap into stakes competition immediately.



Trainer Keith Desormeaux had a decision to make when rains forced the transfer of the sixth race, the Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-olds fillies, from turf to a wet/sloppy main track.  After a pair of dirt track sprints to begin her career, Apache Princess had improved dramatically when given a chance to perform on turf as her pedigree suggested she would, missing by a neck in a two-turn turf maiden event before reeling off a pair of visually pleasing wins down the hill.  Though today’s race offered valuable black type, many (most?) trainers would have kept the daughter of Unusual Heat in the barn rather than subject her to a surface that she had every right not to handle.  Desormeaux didn’t blink.  Despite taking plenty of slop in her face and having the trainer’s brother Kent drop his whip in the upper stretch, Apache Princess drew off with complete authority to register and more than three length score.  Interestingly, she was winless in three races when matched with state-bred rivals but is unbeaten in three starts when facing open company. Desormeaux now knows he has many options, but a return to California-bred stakes competition on any surface or distance should offer easy pickings.

After defeating maidens at first asking last November at Del Mar like a colt with Derby potential, the Bob Baffert-trained Coliseum has gone the other way and shouldn’t be on anybody’s list after finishing sixth of seven in the eight-furlong Sham Stakes-G3 last month at 60 cents on the dollar and then winding up a well-beaten third, again at 3/5, in today’s eighth race, the San Vicente Stakes-G2.  The son of Tapit as yet to master the required skill of breaking with his company, and after leaving slowly yet again and then rushing up to press the pace, he gave way readily when the pressure was turned on entering the lane.  The winner turned out to be a Candy Ride gelding that wasn’t among the original Triple Crown nominees, Sparky Ville, who wore down the unlucky (and no doubt best) Dessman to win by a nose in a race that earned a legitimate 94 Beyer speed figure.  Dessman, the lesser-regarded of the two Baffert colts in the field despite having won his debut by more than seven lengths, was laying comfortably in the garden spot tracking the pace as the field entered the turn, but then was asked for run into the teeth of the hottest part of the race, put away the two front-runners entering the lane, pulled himself up when clearly in front inside the furlong pole, got nailed, but then galloped out far in front of the pack after the wire.



River Boyne carried a perfect record of six wins in six starts when competing over the Santa Anita turf course into today’s seventh race, the Thunder Road Stakes, so as expected he left as the 3/5 favorite in the one-mile turf event.  But on pure numbers he didn’t have much of advantage over his rivals, and in fact was facing older foes for the first time, so we thought he might be vulnerable, and indeed he was.  The Jeff Mullins-trained colt appeared to be going well enough entering the lane but then ran into a roadblock when attempting to rally inside the furlong pole and was forced to steady sharply, losing his momentum and eventually checking in fourth, beaten a length and one-quarter.  Would he have won had he gotten through?  Probably, though it would have been close.  The winner turned out to be True Valour (11-1), a Group-3 winner in Ireland last year and a recent third place finisher in an overnight allowance race that signaled a possible return to top form in what was just his third U.S. start.  However, jis lower-than-par assigned Beyer number was a disappointing 95, so you should be wary of runners exiting this race, especially if they are raised to higher graded level.

Earlier in the program in the fifth race, True Valour’s trainer Simon Callaghan won the first of his two stakes races when the odds-on Bellafina captured the on-mile main track Las Virgenes Stakes-G2 over a mile on the main track.   After taking considerable heat from pace-presser Mother Mother in the first six furlongs of the race, Bellafina found reserve energy that only the good ones have to fight off perfect tripper Enaya Alrabb in deep stretch to hold sway by three-quarters of a length.  There’s no doubt that the daughter of Quality Road has immense ability and class, but there is considerable concern that continued success as the distances increase will be difficult, her victory in the mile and one-sixteenth Chandelier Stakes-G1 last fall notwithstanding.  Her connections probably are still thinking Kentucky Oaks-G1; she would seem much better suited for the spring/summer program for 3-year-old fillies in New York.



Top trainer John Sadler isn’t necessarily known for his expertise with European imports but he’s more than capable when a good one shows up on his doorstep.  Ficanas, who had one start at Doncaster during her juvenile season (she finished a promising second and was subsequently acquired by Sadler’s main client Hronis Racing) looked like a star in the making in today’s fourth race, a maiden downhill turf sprint for older fillies and mares.  Unplaced for Sadler two-turning in her U.S. debut last May and then turned out, she returned much better than she left while performing like a filly who can quickly move up the ladder.  While she certainly wasn’t beating much, the daughter of Sepoy won by nearly three lengths despite being geared down, and her Beyer number of 76 hardly does her justice.

Ax Man most likely won’t ever be as good as we thought he might be, but it was nice to see the 4-year-old son of Misremembered return to winning form in the featured seventh race, a rarely-written three-other-than seven-furlong allowance race.  Taking all of the heat while setting the pace inside, the Bob Baffert-trained gelding shrugged off his rivals to hold sway over Edwards Going Left while earning a 97 Beyer speed figure, the same number he was assigned when breaking his maiden at first asking 13 months previous.  Ax Man has won twice over a distance of ground – his Sir Barton Stakes victory by more than eight lengths over a sloppy track on the Preakness Day undercard was especially impressive – so Baffert has the option of stretching him out again. Ax Man is a superior off-track runner, but the rainy season won’t last forever in Southern California (duh!) and Ax Man has a history of not shipping well; otherwise, an Oaklawn Park invasion would make a lot of sense.   It’ll be interesting to see what the barn decides to do.



The fourth-place finish by Avalanche on opening day in a first-level allowance race over nine furlongs on grass was his best race ever – the 5-year-old son of Mizzen Mast had rallied into the teeth of slow splits to finish fourth, beaten just a half-length – but could you back him with confidence in a today’s fifth under identical conditions when facing the basically the same group?  The John Sadler-trained horse was just 1-for-14 in his career, and zero-for-10 lifetime over the Santa Anita turf course while developing a reputation of always being too late and a dollar short.  But today, after trailing the field of nine approaching the quarter pole, he accelerated impressively when room developed to wear down The Hunted (who is better at a flat mile than nine furlongs) to be up in time by half-length while negotiating the final furlong in 11 and small change.  With continued improvement as a relatively fresh 5-year-old, he might be able to win a decent race somewhere down the road.



Kirk Herbstreit’s Soul Streit hadn’t been seen in the p.m. since finishing fifth in the 2017 Del Mar Futurity-G1 17 months ago in a race that had followed his highly-impressive maiden debut victory the previous month.  Usually these types of long layoffs preclude an expectation that a promising young horse will return anywhere near as well as he left, and in today’s seventh race, a highly-contentious first-level allowance sprint, the son of Maclean’s Music was facing an extremely formidable task.  That Soul Streit was able to perform as well as he did – he was beaten just over two lengths by the rapidly improving I Am the Danger while finishing more than five clear of the rest – indicates that the Bob Baffert-trained rig should have a highly productive 2019 and may yet fulfill the promise displayed during his brief juvenile campaign.  His pedigree is sprint on sprint, so we have no expectations that he’ll ever be effective over a distance of ground, but Soul Streit has a chance to develop into a very good one-corner runner.  Let’s hope he can stay sound this time around.



Omaha Beach had burned money in each of his first four career starts, failing as the favorite in each outing, so it was not easy to trust him at 70 cents on the dollar when the son of War Front made his fifth attempt to beat maidens in today’s fifth race.  The Richard Mandella-trained colt had finished second in each of three previous starts while losing by a combined three-quarters of a length, while displaying a disturbing habit of getting beat when a more genuine colt would have found a way to seal the deal.  Turns out, though, that Omaha Beach, wasn’t really displaying a lack of fortitude but simply failing to stay a distance of ground.  Today, finally, after three middle distance grass races and another over a mile on the main track, the 3-year-old colt for the first time in his career was allowed to perform at a distance that best suits his style, namely, an extended sprint.  The result was a pulverizing maiden breaking score by nine lengths in a race that was a assigned a superb 90 Beyer speed figure, 10 points better than his previous career top.  Now the question is, will the colt’s connections do the right thing and reserve this potentially top class 3-year-old for one-turn races?  Or, will they’ll chase the Derby dream by asking Omaha Beach to compete at distances beyond his range?  Stay tuned.

Unlike Omaha Beach, the other high potential 3-year-old to perform today – Mucho Gusto – appears to have no distance limitations, based not only on pedigree but on pure performance.  Though previously not considered to be in quite the same stratosphere as Baffert’s two division leaders Game Winner and Improbable, Mucho Gusto appears to be equally talented if not more so than anything in the East right now based on his thoroughly authoritative victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes-G3 over eight and-one half furlongs.  Relaxing beautifully behind what we’d term an average pace over the sealed/sloppy track, the son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man took complete control when ready turning for home and was mostly on his own courage through the lane before completing a nearly five-length romp over the recent Sham Stakes-G3 winner Gunmetal Gray while giving every indication that added distance won’t be an issue.  Yes, it’s always difficult to take a result at face value when it’s accomplished over a wet track, but this colt had done some excellent work on fast ground in three prior starts.  Now, he’s a candidate to hit the road, especially where there’s a reasonable expectation of an off track.  Hello, Oaklawn Park?

Following his superb victory in the opening day Malibu Stakes-G1, we opined that McKinzie, while certainly capable of winning major races up to a mile and one-eighth, probably would be most effective (and perhaps unbeatable) in races around one turn up to a mile, so it wasn’t a complete surprise that the son of Street Sense went down by a half-length to Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway in today’s eighth race, the nine-furlong San Pasqual Stakes-G2.  This was supposed to a prep – or at least a steppingstone – to the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, but trainer Bob Baffert must concede the possibility that opting for the 1m Golden Shaheen – the same race Mind Your Biscuits won last year – would be in the colt’s best interests.  As for the 2017 BC Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway – remember, he finished third in the Kentucky Derby-G1 as a 3-year-old – it would seem that the mile and one-quarter distance of both the Santa Anita Handicap-G1 and the Dubai World Cup-G1 should now be well within his range.   Food for thought for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.



Solomini was one of America’s premiere Kentucky Derby prospects last year following a superb juvenile campaign that included second place finishes in the FrontRunner Stakes (to Bolt d’Oro), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (to Good Magic), and the Los Alamitos Futurity – all Grade One races.  In fact, in the Los Alamitos Futurity, the son of Curlin actually hit the wire first from McKenzie, only to be disqualified on a controversial stewards’ decision.  Over the winter he didn’t grow an inch, and then, while preparing for a Triple Crown bid during the winter, Solomini showed no progress when managing only minor awards behind Magnum Moon in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby.  His once promising continued to stall.  He never threatened when splitting the field in the Kentucky Derby, was a dull third when 30 cents on the dollar in the Affirmed Stakes-G3, was turned out, and then returned no better than he left when ninth of 14 in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.  Finally, In what was supposed to serve as a confidence building victory in the today’s eighth race, his first-ever appearance in an entry-level allowance event, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was knocked down to 30 cents on the dollar, but despite an absolutely perfect trip, hung under pressure in the final furlong and wound up third behind a former maiden-30,000 claimer Mongolian Groom and Beaumarchais, an ex-$12,500 plater.  At one time, this was a very good colt.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the connections are contemplating pulling the plug.



There are many changes a trainer can make to favorably alter the direction of a horse’s racing career.  Trainer Tim Yakteen decided to experiment with Big Buzz in today’s third race, a maiden special weight downhill turf sprint that was transferred to the main track due to overnight rains.  More accurately, Yakteen threw the kitchen sink at the 4-year-old son of Mr. Big, who at time of entry was a nine-race maiden with speed figures that was hovering in the mid-70s.  Here’s what the trainer did: (1) gelded him; (2) added blinkers for the first time; (3) switched to Joel Rosario for the first time; (4) returned him to sprinting; and (5) though not by design, ran him on a wet track for the first time.  The result was a last-to-first geared-down cakewalk by more than five lengths that earned a vastly improved Beyer figure of 83.  It proves the old axiom, if first you don’t success, try, try again – but change everything.



We expected Conquest Tsunami to win today’s eighth race feature – the Clocker’s Corner Stakes – and most of the punters did, too, as they knocked down the veteran gelding to 7/5 in the listed affair down the Hillside course.  The Canadian-bred 7-year-old was clearly the controlling speed, he quickly made the running while appearing to go to much easier than the 21.06 and 42.65 splits would lead you to believe.  The son of Stormy Atlantic then came home unchallenged through the lane to record a blistering 1:11.02 final clocking while registering the 4 ¼ length victory.  It would seem that a performance such as this would set up the Peter Miller-trained sprint nicely for another crack at the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint, a six-furlong straightaway turf sprint in Dubai.  Last year he finished a close third behind Jungle Cat and stable mate Stormy Liberal and seems at least as good now as he was then.  The disappointment in the Clocker’s Corner was Hunt, who had now turned in three substandard races dating back to last July.  Always one of our favorites, the Phil D’Amato-trained gelding never showed a thing when checking in seventh and clearly isn’t the same horse – not likely will ever be – as the one who captured the Shoemaker Mile-G1 last May.



 Her victory in today’s Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint notwithstanding, S Y Sky clearly isn’t the same dominating California-bred mare that she’s been in the past, but in her current form at age five she would seem most effective on grass and we suspect trainer Phil D’Amato will do his best to keep her in state-bred races on the lawn.  The daughter of Grazen got away with a soft opening 22 seconds quarter and then dug down deep when challenged by Queen Bee to You to secure the victory by a half-length, improving her career record to a highly-admirable five wins from nine starts (and two-for-two on turf).  She had to be turned out for more than a year between her three and four-year-old campaigns, so full credit must go to the trainer for keeping her so productive and consistent throughout her abbreviated career.  Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising if her connections choose to have her go out on a winning note and send her home.  She should make a heck of a broodmare.



Perhaps he was riding to trainer Neil Drysdale’s instructions or maybe he simply decided to do this on his own, but Joe Talamo failed to employ the type of strategy that gave Love and Peace her best chance to win today’s opener, an open allowance turf miler restricted to 4-year-old fillies.  Breaking from the rail, the French-bred filly was not allowed to utilize her good inside post (with the rail set at 30 feet, no less) to any advantage and pretty much lost her best chance in the first 50 yards. Instead of nudging her leaving the gate to secure what should have been a perfect ground-saving, stalking position with cover, Talamo took great pains to wrangle her back to last in the six-runner field in a race that was certain to be slowly run early (see 23.55 second opening quarter).  Not only did this guarantee that Love and Peace would take the worst of the race-flow, but it also insured the likelihood that Talamo would be forced to lose considerable ground when trying to rally into the teeth of the race-shape from the three-eighths pole to the wire.  As it turned out, Love and Pace, who doesn’t really possess a massive turn of foot in the first place, could only manage to finish second, beaten just over a length behind Streak of Luck, while coming home in 23 and small change, and that’s without even factoring in the ground loss.  Hopefully next time she’s allowed to participate in the fray from the start and then have far less work to do when the pressure gets turned on in the final quarter mile.



Gold Arrow had been working quite well according to her registered final times at Los Alamitos and then in her most two recent drills at Santa Anita leading up to her racing debut in today’s second race for older fillies and mares at six furlongs.  So, it wasn’t surprising that the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained 4-year-old received strong support at the windows, so much so that she eventually left as the favorite at 7/5.  But, after breaking slowly and losing valuable early position, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro simply gave herself too much to do, and despite a strong late rally she had to settle for second behind the much more experienced Lady Mamba, who was allowed to coast through soft fractions while cruising gate-to-wire.  Despite her defeat, Gold Arrow will be just fine with distance and experience.  She won’t be any kind of price in her next appearance, that’s for sure, but Gold Arrow is very likely to graduate and then go on to better things.

Here’s another first-time starter that didn’t run to her backing but shouldn’t be given up on.  Tiz Felicity made her debut in today 10th race, a maiden turf miler for 3-year-old fillies, and she was bet down from her morning line of 6-1 to go favored at 2-1.  However, the daughter of Scat Daddy never landed a blow, winding up a non-threatening third following a wide trip to be beaten more than six lengths.  But she’s better than this.  Victimized somewhat by a lack of pace and never asked for much when being allowed to finish on her courage by jockey Mike Smith, the Mike McCarthy-trained filly seems certain to step forward with this educational run behind her.  We suspect she’ll also enjoy added distance.  Give another chance next time.



Prior to her debut in today’s fourth race, the whispers surrounding Flor de La Mar brought back memories of the chatter attached to Justify when the eventual unbeaten Triple Crown winner debuted almost a year ago.  Trainer Bob Baffert had made no effort to hide either one in morning workouts that were readily available for viewing on, so Flor de La Mar, similar to Justify, was bet like she couldn’t lose when facing five other maiden sophomore fillies over six and one-half furlongs.  Leaving at 20 cents on the dollar, the daughter of Tiznow pressed the pace 3-wide in hand, took control in the upper stretch when ready and drew clear to produce a five-length score over stable mate Blue Moonrise while earning a decent but certainly not scintillating 79 Beyer number.  Truthfully, the performance didn’t register particularly high on the goose bump scale, but she was asked to do only what was required she seems certain to be even more dominant as the distances increase.  Justify was an absolute slam dunk superstar from day one; Flor de La Mar isn’t anywhere close to being there yet.  But she’ll have her chance.

First-time starter Friday’s At Shady looked like he was going to be distanced during the early stages of the seventh race, a maiden $20,000 claiming sprint for 3-year-olds.  The Jeff Bonde-trained colt had received no action (20-1), so not much was expected, and after breaking slowly and appearing not to know what was going on, he fell back to be what looked like 20 lengths behind the leaders in the opening quarter.  But then the light switch went on, and the son of Twice the Appeal suddenly accelerated on the mid-point of the far turn.  Circling the pack and gobbling up the ground with every stride inside the furlong pole, he managed to wind up second, beaten less than a length, while four lengths clear of the others.  Visually, it was a pleasing performance and the winner’s Beyer figure (60) wasn’t too bad.   So, how much improvement is this Cal-bred capable of showing next time, and will Bonde protect him a bit by raising him a notch or two?  It would seem like a hike to the maiden $30,000 level at, say, seven furlongs, would be the ideal spot.



Dessman had been outworked by hotshot stable mate Flor de La Mar on a couple of occasions leading up to his debut in today’s seventh race, but that didn’t stop the punters from sending it in on the first-time starter, who closed at 4/5.  Settling just off the leaders to the turn, the son of Union Rags responded readily when given his cue and eventually drew off to win by more than seven lengths while earning a respectable 80 Beyer speed figure.  Purchased for $750,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton March Sale, the Bob Baffert-trained colt accomplished the task stylishly and, as a son of a Belmont Stakes winner, surely should get at least a middle distance.  We got the impression that Dessman had been considered to be in the second tier of the stable’s Derby prospects, and maybe he still is, but it will be interesting to see what this colt can do against tougher competition over a distance of ground.  He might do a bit better than you think.



Cajun Treasure had made our “Primed and Ready” list last month after turning in a series of impressive training track workouts while signaling his readiness for a top effort following a layoff of six months.  Though he had never sprinted in his 3-race career, we expected the son of Treasure Beach to return in a Hillside turf dash, for he had given every indication in his prior outings that he had a bit of a move but simply didn’t stay.  But trainer Peter Eurton opted for today’s fourth race, a mile event that was subsequently taken off the turf, and, not unexpectedly, we got the same Cajun Treasure that we saw last summer, a colt that simply can’t punch it in under pressure.  After appearing to be a sure winner inside the furlong pole, he shortened his stride and wound up third, beaten almost two lengths by favored Sellwood.  We’ll back him again next time, but only if he sprints, and preferably, on grass.



It’s never easy for a first-time starter to win around two turns, especially when it’s a filly being tackling colts.  Bold Mongolian faced such a task in today’s sixth race, a maiden $30,000 claimer over a mile on the main track, yet she came within a whisker of pulling it off after losing a head-bob to the fifth-time starter, Forestation.  Bold Mongolian, who was nine lengths clear of the others, certainly deserved a better fate.  Receiving some early action on the tote but drifting up to 18-1 at post time, the daughter of Revolutionary found herself in a virtual match race every step of the way while racing along the rail.  Though beaten close home her resolve was admirable, and she earned a Beyer number of 65, which would have won at least nine out of 10 such races restricted to fillies.  So, one must ask, why did trainer Enebish Ganbat choose to face the boys?  There was an identical race for fillies seven days previous that drew only seven entrants.  Now, there are no two-turn maiden $30,000 races for 3-year-olds fillies in the next book, though there is one for maiden $40,000, but not until February 1.  We suspect that’s the one her connections will choose.

Lieutenant Dan lacked early speed but finished with interest to be a respectable third in his racing debut at Los Alamitos in December, so improvement was expected in today’s ninth race for state-bred maiden 3-year-olds, especially since trainer Steve Miyadi has excellent stats with second-timers.  The son of Grazen was always within range outside to the head of the lane and then kicked away with power (though failing to change leads) while registering an eight-length romp and earning a stakes-quality 83 Beyer number.  Winning owner Nicholas Alexander had to be just has pleased with the performance of his other starter, the third-place finisher, Satchel Paige.  Another son of Grazen, Satchel Paige broke poorly and fell behind by as many as 17 lengths down the backstretch according to the official chart.  But the light switch suddenly went on as the field approached the head of the lane and the Phil d’Amato-trained colt finished fastest but much to late to wind up a distant but willing third.  Most of his sire’s offspring can get a mile but this colt – out of a mare by Old Topper – might have his best future as a late-running sprinter.  He should be tough vs. similar next time but will need to learn to leave with his field.



To steal a line from Blazing Saddles, Marine Layer has killed more people – or horse players – than Cecil B. DeMille.  In her debut at Delaware Park last June, she left at 50 cents on the dollar, but despite having every chance wound up second.  In her next start, the punters, undeterred, dove right back in, sending her off at 1/5.  Same runner-up result, though she may have had a bit of an excuse after stumbling at the start.  Put away and then brought back this winter by trainer Tom Proctor, the daughter of Into Mischief once again trained like a good thing and was bet accordingly (down to 6/5) in a maiden race originally slated for the Hillside Course but transferred to the wet fast (sealed) main track.  This time she was completely non-competitive, winding up last of five, beaten more than 21 lengths.  We supposed Proctor will opt for a similar spot on grass next time (there’s one in the book, Feb. 3), but we’ll let her beat us.  Meanwhile, the race second choice Nomizar, a filly who had never received an ounce of wagering support in three prior starts (she’d been 12-1, 19-1, and most recently 68-1) established the pace and never looked back, holding sway over the first-timer Full Eclipse (27-1), who finished willingly while 11 lengths clear of the rest.  The assigned Beyer speed figure of 70 was a career top for Nomizar but she’ll need better to be effective on the raise.



What in the world happened to Qahira in today’s third race?  So impressive in her racing debut in late November – she graduated by almost five lengths with an 87 Beyer speed figure in a race that already had proven productive (the runner-up came back to jog), the daughter of the hot young sire Cairo Prince was knocked down to 30 cents on the dollar in a race that seemed a mere formality.  Perhaps resenting the stout rating tactics employed by jockey Drayden Van Dyke, Qahira stalked or pressed the pace to the head of the lane and then was spent, fading readily to wind up last of five beaten more than six lengths behind the progressive but not particular fast Calf Moon Bay.  Maybe Qahira is simply a sprinter, or maybe she came out of the race worse than she went into it.  Or, maybe short-priced runners from the Bob Baffert should be avoided for the time being.  Through the first two weeks of the season the Baffert barn is 2-for-25, with 16 off-the-board finishes.  Haters, enjoy it while you can.



Those of you who backed Speakers in today’s lid-lifter – a mile turf affair for restricted (nw-3) $35,000 claiming fillies and mares – may have been inclined to simply go home after experiencing the nightmarish trip the daughter of Unusual Heat suffered through when extremely well-meant at 5-1.  It appeared jockey Flavien Prat had secured an ideal spot midway – he had cover behind the leaders and his mare was into the bridle – so her backers had to believe eventually she would extract herself from the box and roll home once clear.  But it never happened.  While the eventual winner Halo Darlin was cruising on the front end without being subjected to any pressure, Speakers remained buried in traffic, unable to produce any momentum.  She never spent a nickel – Michael Wrona once described a similar trip that way – and the result was a thoroughly unsatisfying third place finish, beaten three lengths.  It was the first time Prat had ever ridden her, and we suspect he’ll request a do-over from trainer Andrew Lerner when they write the race back in a few weeks.  We’re thinking the result might be a bit different next time.



 The late-developing Bashful made it two-for-two in her burgeoning career by rallying from stone last to win by an expanding 3 ½ lengths in the sixth race, a first-level allowance extended sprint for fillies and mares.  It had taken her until November of her 3-year-old season to make it to the post, but after a smart debut win over five furlongs on grass at Del Mar she didn’t miss a beat in training and came right back for the repeat score despite moving up in class and switching to the main track.  Actually, her pedigree is much more dirt than turf, which is why trainer Richard Mandella had no qualms about switching surfaces.  Today’s win, accomplished with a Beyer of 79, represented a three-point decline off her maiden victory, but no matter what metric you use, there is no way she didn’t run at least as good if not better today.  As a daughter of Orb from a mare by Deputy Minister, she’s bred to be even better routing than sprinting and we suspect Mandella will cross that bridge next time.

We weren’t alone when we expected Bellafina to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs; instead, she left at 9/5 and wound up fourth, beaten almost 10 lengths.   For whatever reason, she simply didn’t show up.  But she wasn’t the only California shipper to disappoint – Marley’s Freedom, Catalina Cruiser, Abel Tasman and McKinzie, all ran arguably worse than she did – so it was nice to see the real Bellafina return in today’s eighth race, the Santa Ynez Stakes-G2 over seven furlongs.  Dueling the very talented Mother Mother into submission after the opening half, the daughter of Quality Road drew off rapidly to win by an eased-up eight and one-half lengths while earning a career top Beyer figure of 95.  She even changed leads right on cue, something she’s not always done.  The Kentucky Oaks is the ultimate goal but before then she’ll have at least another race or two in California, where she may hook up with American Pharoah’s Grade-1 winning half-sister, Chasing Yesterday.  That will be interesting.



Stubbins had shown ability last summer on two occasions despite never appearing to be comfortable over the very deep Del Mar main track, so we were expecting the son of Morning Line to perform even better on turf in his first start in four months in today’s fifth race, a downhill dash for maiden 3-year-olds.  Despite the rail, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt had enough early speed to gain a favorable ground-saving trip to the head of the lane, and then displayed courage to slip through a tight opening along the fence in the final furlong to edge pacesetter My Mandate by a desperate nose.  On pedigree the winner should get at least a mile, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the colt’s connections seek a nw-2 affair on turf for this colt’s next appearance.  Debuting Mountain Spirit caught the eye when finishing willingly to be third after looming a bold threat wide crossing the dirt.  He’s by Point of Entry and therefore bred to improve going long; the Mullins-trained colt should get nothing but better with experience and distance.

Jockey Flavien Prat was offered the mount on both Gray Magician and Gunmetal Gray in the featured Sham Stakes-G3 over a mile on the main track for 3-year-olds.  It was his choice; he had ridden the former to a nine-length maiden win at Del Mar and had been aboard the latter when he finished a respectable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1.  Prat opted for Gray Magician – we would have done the same – but once again proving that jockeys aren’t the best handicappers it was Gunmetal Gray who managed to rally from last of seven to record a one-length victory over recent Gold Rush Stakes Sueno.  The Beyer number of 82 wasn’t anything to brag about – in this same race last year McKinzie’s figure was 98 – but at least the son of Exchange Rate was moving forward, not backward, in the final furlong.  As for the race favorite, the talented by inexperienced Coliseum, his chances were dashed after the son of Tapit missed the break, lost position, and then failed to cooperate when asked to rate and settle behind the leaders around the clubhouse turn and into the backstretch.  He still has a lot to learn.



One of the most difficult ways to win over the Santa Anita turf course – or on any turf course for that matter – is to be wide without cover every step of the way.  As the field turned into the backstretch in today’s fourth race, Drift Away appeared condemned to that type of trip.  The Andrew Lerner-trained filly found herself in a stalking position 1-off the rail behind the pacesetting Untouched Reality, who didn’t figure to back up, and thus we suspected that Drift Away would do just that – drift away – when coming under pressure from the quarter pole home.  But to her credit, the daughter of Congrats clung to her rival until close home whereupon she managed to exert her superiority, winning by a neck while showing the resolve that now has carried her to four wins in just 12 career starts.  The assigned Beyer number of 80 was a career top for the winner, but given the circumstance that it was earned, we’ll rate it at least a few points higher.  Even after her victory in this starter’s allowance affair she remains eligible to the first condition and based on this performance she should be very competitive against that group next time.

Maiden races for 3-year-olds at this time of the year can be weak, average, strong, or downright salty.  Today’s sixth race clearly falls into the latter category after Nolo Contesto and Omaha Beach went toe-to-from the quarter pole home and wound up a half-length apart at the wire while leaving the rest of the field eight lengths behind.  Nolo Contesto had a rough run in his sprint debut (the rider lost his stirrups early in the race) but showed enough when rallying to be fifth, beaten just over five lengths, to verify trainer John Sadler’s belief that he was the best young prospect in his barn.  Stretching out to a mile off that one sprint and facing Omaha the more experienced and equally highly-regarded Omaha Beach from the Richard Mandella barn, Nole Contesto had to be everything his trainer hoped he would be to win.  Despite losing ground throughout, the son of Pioneerof the Nile was relentless in his pursuit of Omaha Bunch and appearing a bit green inside the furlong pole, he managed to overpower his rival in deep stretch to earn his diploma.  The Beyer number of 80 represented a 14-point improvement off his debut and was only two points lower than what Gunmetal Grey achieved in winning the Sham Stakes two days later.

We’ve written several times about one of our favorite angles – the route-to-sprint maneuver when it applies to the Santa Anita Hillside course – so we believed Tonahutu was the logical top selection in today’s seventh race, a second-level allowance affair for fillies and mares.  The Dan Blacker-trained mare had run five previous times since being imported from England and four of those races had come around two turns.  But she finished an eye-catching second in her only sprint – a five-furlong dash at Del Mar – so when she showed up in the entries in this downhill affair she seemed like a logical winner and was bet accordingly.  Tonahuto certainly ran her race, but A Little Bit Me, also shortening up from a mile, ran even better and was never really threatened in route to a 2 ½ length victory.  It was probably not a coincidence that this visually impressive performance came in her first start since being claimed by high-percentage trainer Richard Baltas.



First-time gelding Coil to Strike, off the track since a poor debut run last February, could easily have returned in a modest maiden claimer without causing suspicion but instead trainer Billy Morey protected him in a straight maiden Cal-bred sprint in today’s fourth race, a sure sign that the barn still liked him.  A bullet five-furlong gate work six days earlier gave a hint of ability, and the 4-year-old son of Coil ran quite well when third, beaten just over two lengths by the much more experienced Red Envelope.  Coil to Strike had the misfortune of drawing the rail – a death trap so far this season – and after breaking slowly and then rushing up to establish the pace, he kept on nicely through the lane, instead of packing it in, which he easily could have done.  With this race under his belt and facing similar foes (minus the winner) next time, he should be hard to beat.

There are few angles more powerful than the route-to-sprint pattern when handicapping Hillside turf sprints.  Players should always promote runners that are turning back in trip in these slalom events, especially when the horse in question already had proven his ability to handle the downhill assignment.  Caribou Club fit the description perfectly and received strong play (3-1) in the eighth race, the Joe Hernandez Stakes-G3, despite having to face a three-pronged attack from the Peter Miller barn that included two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal.  In his most recent start, Caribou Club was a clever winner of the 8.5-furlong Seabiscuit Handicap, but this return to sprinting was no issue, as half of the gelding’s 16 career starts now have come in sprints, four of which he’s won while never off the board in the other four.  Benefitting from a blazing pace that complimented his late-charging style, Caribou Club was up in time to win clear while Stormy Liberal, despite having every chance, had to settle for second, beaten just over a length.  It would be nice if they meet again down road, perhaps in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai over six furlongs in late March, but the current plan for Caribou Club has him staying home and pointing for the one mile Frank Kilroe Stakes-Gr. 1 at Santa Anita March 9.

Yet another example of the strength of the route-to-sprint angle was highlighted in the 10th race, a downhill dash for entry-level allowance state-bred 3-year-olds.  Irish Heatwave broke his maiden over a mile at Del Mar in early November but was a late scratch from the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes later that month.  Making his first start in two months and returning to a sprint, the son of Unusual Heat was attractive at 7-1 and rallied to nose out stakes-winner Listing, with recent maiden winner Teacher’s Treasure a close third.  The first three are good colts so we suspect this will prove to be a productive race



He Will has not won since November of 2017, and he’s never been the easiest of rides, so it is entirely possible that the veteran of 25 races has lost a step or two.  Still, the son of Cyclotron seemed primed for a big effort when returning to state-bred company in today’s third race, a stakes-quality allowance turf miler that appeared on paper to be well within his capabilities.  But as the race soon developed, it was clear that the 2-1 favorite would never have a chance.  Despite having the advantage of the inside draw that practically guaranteed an ideal, ground-saving trip, He Will was wrangled back after the break to lose his early position and then to compound matters was guided directly to no man’s lands – four-to-five wide entering the clubhouse turn without cover – while forfeiting the paint-scraping trip that was his for the asking.  Entering the backstretch, He Will was for some reason permitted to lose contact with his six rivals, falling behind by nine lengths despite a modest early pace.  Finally, recognizing the cause was lost, the rider simply went through the motions from the top of the stretch to wire while allowing He Will to finish on his own courage.  Somewhat remarkably, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained horse still managed to wind up fourth, beaten only three lengths.  Some observers might simply chalk it up as nothing more than a poor ride; I’d categorize the jockey’s performance as a blatant non-effort.

Kudos to Vladimir Cerin for an excellent training job in having Count Alexander ready to win off a 13-month layoff in a highly-competitive first-level allowance turf sprint in today’s fifth race. The son of Scat Daddy was forced miss his entire 3-year season after a promising stakes-placed juvenile campaign but had a history of firing fresh (he won his debut), so at 6-1 on the tote he certainly could have been played. Older horses get saltier every rung up the class ladder – had his 85 Beyer speed figure will have to be improved upon – but with just six career starts Count Alexander has a much higher ceiling.  If you’ve never seen it or simply forgotten, check out his nightmarish trip in the 2017 Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar.  Unlucky doesn’t even begin to describe it.



 We’ve always believed that a horse’s most telling race is his second career start, and the second most is the one that comes directly following a maiden win.  Early on, things didn’t appear terribly bright for Giza Goddess – she didn’t show anything in her first, second, or even third start – so the prospects for justifying her $200,000 yearling purchase price seemed remote.  But then she found grass.  After finishing a solid third at 26-1 in a maiden miler over the Del Mar lawn in mid-November, the John Shirreffs-trained filly improved significantly again in her next start three weeks later over those same conditions when graduating by more than five lengths with career top (and very strong) 81 Beyer figure.  Today’s Blue Norther – her first start since that maiden win – would tell us if she was going to be one-and-done, or a filly that had the potential to be somebody.  Well, Giza Goddess is indeed somebody.  After pressing a hot pace outside throughout and then finding more under pressure in the final furlong, she captured the Blue Norther with another career best 82 Beyer.  She’s from the first crop of Pioneerof the Nile’s first major horse at stud Cairo Prince.  This bodes well for American Pharoah’s first runners, who make the races this year.

Speaking of Pioneerof the Nile, he was represented by a very nice debut maiden winner later in the sixth race when Anuket scored convincingly over six-furlongs by more than four lengths in while giving every indication that she’ll be even better as the distances increase.  Another in an endless string of recent first-out maiden winners from the Bob Baffert barn, she seems certain to be of stakes quality after earning a very respectable 81 Beyer speed figure.  A Juddmonte Farm $575,000 Saratoga yearly purchase, Anuket was a produced by the Tapit mare Rashnaa, who was stakes-placed in Canada but actually ran for a tag early in her career.  It’s really a modest pedigree, so we can conclude that at that price Anuket was acquired much more for her looks than for her page.

Apache Princess, yet another route-to-sprint Hillside winner, was impressive in graduating in the today’s finale for the Desormeaux brothers, drawing clear with power in the final furlong following a perfect trip/ride from mid-pack.  She was beaten a neck in a maiden turf miler at Del Mar in November, so two-turns are within her scope, but with a such a heavy sprint influence on the bottom side of her pedigree (she’s out of an Indian Charlie mare) she might be best suited as a grass sprinter.  Runner-up Unicorn certainly caught the eye and will be on everybody’s horses-to-watch list.  The Richard Baltas stable has a low percentage with first-timers (according to the DRF, he was four percent from a sample of 72 going into the race) so we’re expecting Unicorn to produce a significant forward move.  The daughter of Bodemeister galloped out like a filly who’ll definitely enjoy added ground.



 The last three times the devoted front-runner Fahan Mura was permitted to get away with a 47-seconds opening half or slower she proved impossible to catch.  Yes, she can win even if pressured into a faster pace, but when the timer read :47.43 after the opening half of today’s fourth race, Robert J. Frankel Stakes-G3, the race essentially was over.  Relaxing nicely in the nine-furlong affair in which nobody came within two lengths of her until the shadow of the wire, the daughter of English Channel held sway by three-quarters of a length over the race-shape-victimized Excellent Sunset to improve her record to six wins in seven career starts over the Santa Anita turf course.  Her “lone on the lead” trip could easily have been predicted, which made her closing price of 8/5 seem like an overlay.  As for Excellent Sunset, she deserves better luck.  The Irish-bred filly had her number taken down when winning the Kathryn Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in November (she had to come down but was best), and with any kind of help up front today could have gotten up.  Her day will come.

We really liked Californiagoldrush in the American Oaks, poor draw and all, so it was equally surprising and disappointing that the Neil Drysdale-trained filly failed to fire an ounce when seventh of eight as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade-1, mile and one-quarter turf affair won smartly by the Chad Brown-trained Eastern shipper Competitionofideas.  We now know that Californiagoldrush exited the race with what her trainer succinctly described a “knee injury,” and with the breeding season just around the corner and since the daughter of Cape Blanco is a Grade 2 winner and Grade 1 placed, there may not be any urgency to bring her back.  As for Competitionofideas, she was a bit late to the party, having taken four races to break her maiden, but this convincing win was no fluke.  If the daughter of Speighstown probably was on Brown’s practice squad among his older filly and mare turf runners coming in, she’s definitely on the main roster now.



Magnificent McCool already had run five times entering the Friday opener, a nine-furlong grass affair for maiden juveniles, and his only prior outing on turf (a modest fourth vs. maidens at Del Mar in August), didn’t provide any evidence that he would be any better on grass than he was on the main track.  A highly rated runner-up effort on dirt last summer at Los Alamitos, when he finished nine lengths clear of the others, gave a hint of ability, but two subsequent outings failed to verify that promise.  Today, however, he looked like a monster, winning with a ton left by more than four lengths while displaying a turn of foot (final furlong in11.34 seconds) that only good horses have.  A son of Giant’s Causeway from the dam of the hard-knocking local veteran Secreto Primero, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt was purchased for $625,00 in Ocala in April and may yet turn out to be worth that and more if he can duplicate this type of performance when facing tougher foes down the road.

Iha Do Mel was making her racing debut in the fourth race, a downhill turf sprint for maiden two-year-old fillies.  Not much was expected from the daughter of Awesome Again – she left at 132-1 – but there was nothing wrong whatsoever with her second-place performance and gives reason to believe that the Paulo Lobo-trained homebred will be more than useful with added experience and distance.  She’s the first foal from the unraced Distorted Humor mare Sonhadora while the second dam was the high-class Delaware Handicap and Ruffian winner Swift Temper.  As for the winner, Shut It Out is a very nice prospect, too, for trainer Doug O’Neill.  The second-time starter by Violence finished with interest to be a close fourth in her debut over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar in November and built on that initial impression today.  She’s another that most certainly will run on.



There’s always an intriguing opening day maiden two-year-old race carded at Santa Anita and it usually comes up fairly hot.  We’re not sure how strong today’s edition in the fifth race will eventually turn out – the Beyer number assigned to debut winner Big Scott Daddy was a moderate 79 – but If we had to take one out of the race, it would be third place finisher One Bad Boy.  Drawing the dreaded rail and lacking gate quickness to be in mid-pack early, he stayed on nicely through the lane and wound up beaten just 2 ¼ lengths.  By Twirling Candy from the stakes-winning dam of the locally-raced good filly Ms. Bad Behavior, the Richard Baltas-trained ridgeling had been burning up the track at San Luis Rey Downs prior to this run but clearly needed the experience, as most first-timers from this barn do.  While we always prefer the two-sprints-and-a-stretch pattern with young horses, One Bad Boy might not need another short race.   In whatever race he shows up time, he’s very likely to move forward in a significant way.

The wire came up at the right time for River Boyne in the sixth race, the Mathis Brothers Mile on turf in a race restricted to 3-year-olds.  The victory by a head over Desert Stone enhances the Jeff Mullins-trained colt’s record over the Santa Anita lawn to a remarkable six-for-six (he’s 1-for-7 everywhere else), but all of those wins were accomplished when facing his own age group.  The gravy train ends after the first of the year, when the Irish-bred son of Dandy Man must enter the real world comprised of older horses.  Based strictly on numbers – his win today earned a 95 Beyer speed figure – River Boyne will find the jump challenging, even though the local turf contingent was been shallow for, like, forever.  It will be interesting to see how he fits in open company.

After McKinzie returned to winning form by blowing away the field in the ninth race, Malibu Stakes-G1, the inevitable talk about the possibility of a start in the mile and one-eighth Pegasus World Cup in late January came quickly despite the fact that the Son of Street Sense had finished 31 lengths behind Accelerate in his previous start, the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1.  While that performance clearly was not an indication of his true ability – and, yes, he does have prior Grade-1 win over nine furlongs in the Pennsylvania Derby – the evidence is mounting that McKinzie just might be most effective around one turn.  The seven-furlong Malibu was just his second career start at a sprint distance; his previous attempt resulted in a runaway maiden win over the same trip during the fall of his juvenile career.  Perhaps he’s similar to high class runners like Honor Code and Frosted – they could win going long but were far more effective up to a mile – but in the States there aren’t many big buck opportunities for horses that can’t stay more than a middle distance.




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 (thru March 3, 2019)

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