In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been away for the last two Thursdays. Then again, if you hadn’t noticed, chances are you’re probably not reading this now. As the kids these days say, ‘Whatever.’
The next two weekends are huge on the racing landscape. Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In events, plus assorted other graded stakes races that serve as suitable preps for Del Mar-based championships dot the landscape from coast to coast.
The return of racing to Santa Anita always is a special occasion, made even more notable by the recent announcement that racing will return to the unique hillside turf course at about six and one-half furlongs. Fittingly, Friday’s Eddie D. stakes will break the seal on the re-invigorated downhill grass sprint course that actually plays more like a one-mile turf test. The stakes race is named in honor of Eddie Delahoussaye, a Hall of Fame jockey and one of the greatest riders in the history of the game. We had the pleasure of working around Eddie D. for years in Southern California and he’s as genuine a person as you’ll ever find; one of the best in an ‘80’s SoCal jockey colony that had so many fine riders that it was a living, breathing wing of racing’s Hall of Fame. Shoemaker, Pincay, Delahoussaye, McCarron, Hawley, Stevens, Pierce, Solis, and we just might be forgetting someone.
As a racing fan, it will be nice to tune in Friday and, hopefully, see Eddie D. in the Santa Anita winner’s circle greeting successful connections. As a horseplayer, it will be challenging to once more attempt to solve puzzles that unfold on a course that used to lay claim to the only right-hand turn in North American racing. Could still be true but that Kentucky Downs course has some funky corners to it.
Saturday we look forward to an outstanding afternoon of racing at Santa Anita, concluding with a Late Pick 4 that could offer twists and turns worthy of a best-selling novel. Medina Spirit, tainted Kentucky Derby winner, makes his second afternoon appearance since Preakness in the Gr. 1 Awesome Again stakes where he will meet elders for the first time. Is he up to the challenge or was there a more pressing issue for last week’s defection from the Pennsylvania Derby than merely a distasteful post position?
And what about United, the on again off again SoCal turf star who nearly won the ’19 BC Turf at 51-1 and then returned to finish eighth in the ’20 event? Is he ready to repeat as best in the John Henry Turf Championship and have another swipe at the BC Turf brass ring?
What about Luck, the filly not the ill-fated HBO show? Can she immediately parlay a first level allowance/$40k claiming Del Mar romp into a Gr. 1 Rodeo Drive title? It’s asking a lot, but she appears sharp as a knife.
Dr. Shivel, a 3-year-old who bested elders twice already this year, will attempt to do it again from the dreaded rail post position going six furlongs. Four-year-old Collusion Illusion, drawn outside in the field of six, seems ready to improve on his close third-place finish in the ’20 edition of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
Those are just some of the questions that will be answered Saturday in Santa Anita’s Late Pick 4. Below you will find one man’s humble opinion of how that wager might unfold, including a suggested Pick 4 ticket.
Happy opening weekend at The Great Race Place!
Santa Anita Sprint Championship
Grade 2 — Six Furlongs
Three-Year-Olds & Upward
#1 Dr. Schivel is a 3-year-old, multiple Gr. 1 winner (Del Mar Futurity & Bing Crosby) seeking a fifth-consecutive triumph. He’s got the top jock Prat, which is nice, but he’s drawn the rail and that could be challenging. Note: this colt already has won from the Santa Anita inside post and his rating style should have him sitting just behind the early leaders. He’s as game as Dick Tracy with a pair of neck decisions in his last two, so he loves a fight. He’s worked steadily for this, including a best of 36 bullet five-eighths in :58 1/5 Sept. 4.
#2 Vertical Threat likes to ‘get it on’ right out of the gate and, for a grade 2 California sprint stakes, this field doesn’t have much early speed. Could the 4-year-old winner of 4 of 7 starts steal this one on the front end? He looked good winning the Russell Road at Charles Town last out and when romping at Mahoning Valley. He didn’t look so good when cooked up front in the Bing Crosby that went to #1 Dr. Schival, 21 lengths better than afternoon. That would be some reversal of fortune, for sure, but, if this colt can walk early…maybe.
#3 Colt Fiction is a 6-year-old who hits hard against allowance foes—fellow Calbreds and otherwise. He went wire-to-wire to win last out at Del Mar and is as good as he’s ever been. Can he duplicate that effort right back? Asking a lot.
#4 C Z Rocket was a mere neck behind #1 Dr. Schivel in the recent Bing Crosbly and barely missed in the Gr. 2 Pat O’Brien last out going seven furlongs. This gelding is now 7 but still gives it all he’s got. He’s not the dominating factor he was last year, but he’s still a ‘tough out’ with a pair of stakes wins, including a grade 2 at Oaklawn this winter. Will he get the early pace heat he needs to do his best in here?
#5 Flagstaff is a 7-year-old with 4 wins in 9 starts at Santa Anita. He’s probably better at 7 furlongs than at six where he’s won just 1 of 8 starts. Still, he’s remarkably consistent—been better than fourth in 10 of his last 12 starts, including 2 wins—both at seven furlongs. Last out he was a head behind #4 C Z Rocket for third in the Gr. 2 Pat O’Brien.
#6 Collusion Illusion loses the services of top jock Prat and picks up the hustling JJ Hernandez. This 4-year-old colt has won 5 of 10 lifetime, including 2 of 5 at Santa Anita and 3 of 5 at the distance. Off since last year’s Malibu Stakes, where he was third behind Charlatan and Saturday’s Awesome Again participant Express Train, he didn’t fire in an August turf sprint at Del Mar. With that race under his belt and this cozy post position, expect this guy to show something with blinkers added for the first time. At 3, he was third, beaten just over 1 length in this race last year when breaking from the rail. He has a bullet, best of 67, half-mile gate workout in :47 2/5 to conclude a series of 4 works every 7 days since his Del Mar turf outing.
Top Two: #1 Dr. Schivel, #6 Collusion Illusion
Reach: #2 Vertical Threat
Grade 1 – One Mile & One-Quarter (Turf)
Fillies & Mares Three Years Old & Upward
#1 Dogtag has finished second in here last 4 races and that just might be her fate again Saturday. She gamely chased #4 Going to Vegas home in the John C. Mabee last out but was making little headway in the final stages. That foe might again have a pace advantage in here and that will make this 5-year-old mare’s challenge difficult. She’s doing well, so expect another solid effort, but the pace picture seems against her. Joe Bravo takes over for Rispoli who moves to #4 Going to Vegas and the new jock might attempt to keep Dogtag closer in the early going. Still, if #4 Going to Vegas gets the kind of trip we envision, she’ll be very tough to catch.
#2 Fast Jet Court is a multiple Gr. 1 winner in her native Brazil. She’s had just one race stateside in the John Mabee at Del Mar when fourth, beaten nearly 4 lengths by #4 Going to Vegas and by over one length by #1 Dogtag. Improvement with a race under her belt might move her ahead of #1 Dogtag, but #4 Going to Vegas is going to be difficult to flip the script on.
#3 Neige Blanche is a 4-year-old filly that’s been pitched against some serious foes in US battles. Finally, she won the Gr. 3 Santa Barbara in May, just missed in the Possibly Perfect in June and then won the CTTOC last out at Del Mar. These seem like they ought to be tougher than what she’s been successful against most recently.
#4 Going to Vegas appears to have a pace advantage in here and that just might be enough to get her home on top. She’s been solid in her last two races when stalking a pacesetter, but she might have to make all the pace in here because there isn’t much early speed. That ought to be fine with this 4-year-old filly and jockey Rispoli who knows her well. She’s won 6 of 21 and 4 of 10 at Santa Anita with 3 seconds. She’s also been first and second in 2 tries at the distance. She’s the one to beat in here.
#5 Rideforthecause is a 5-year-old mare with 5 wins in 16 starts. She finished second to #3 Neige Blanche by a head in the Gr. 3 Santa Barbara and was nearly two lengths behind that foe last out in the CTTTOC. Time before that, she won the Possible Perfect over #1 Dogtag and #3 Neige Blanche. You get the idea that there’s not much separating this trio.
#6 Crystalle is a 4-year-old filly that will add blinkers for this race. She’s just 2 for 13 lifetime and hasn’t proven herself at this level since she finished second in the Gr. 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont two years ago. She’s started twice for current trainer Peter Miller and needs to do more.
#7 Magic Attitude in an interesting prospect. She ships here from the righthand coast abd ghas been training at Fair Hill for 21% conditioner Arnaud Delacour. This 4-year-old filly hasn’t been out since July 17 when outrun in the Gr. 1 Diana at Saratoga. She dominated the Gr. 2 Sheepshead Bay at Belmont in May and a repeat of that performance probably fits very well in here. She also won the Gr. 1 Belmont Oaks last year, solidly defeating #3 Neige Blanche, and was not disgraced in a pair of Group 1 tries in France. Don’t know if she’s ready to fire her best but her best would be very dangerous in here.
#8 Luck looked absolutely sensational in winning a first-level allowance/$40k optional claimer at Del Mar. Runner-up England’s Rose returned to win her next start at the same level. The win was this filly’s first US start off four races in France—2 wins, a second and a sixth against ungraded competition. It’s a huge step up in class Saturday for this 4-year-old filly, but she’s sharp and has trained well since Del Mar. She gets top jock Prat as he and Rispoli switch mounts—the latter moves to #4 Going in Vegas and Prat moves here.
#9 Red Lark just missed last out in the CTTTOC at Del Mar behind #3 Neige Blanche. Just 2 for 19 overall this one took the Gr. 1 Del Mar Oaks last year and hasn’t visited the charmed circle again since.
Pace Advantage: #4 Going to Vegas
Interesting Invader: #7 Magic Attitude
Sharp as Can Be: #8 Luck
Grade 1 –One Mile & One-Eighth
Three-Year-Olds & Upward
#1 Tizamagician is a 4-year-old colt with multiple Gr. 3 wins to his credit and a Gr. 1 placing last out when second to Tripoli in the Pacific Classic. Prat returns in the saddle for Mandella and this guy likes the SA oval—3 firsts, 4 seconds in 10 tries. He’s been raced at longer distances the last 5 times but has 1 second in one try at one mile and one-eighth over a ‘good’ track. He fits with these, has speed, the rail, the top jock, a Hall of Fame trainer and is a 4-year-old—so, there are many things to like.
#2 Midcourt hasn’t raced since June and has the credentials to be a factor in here. His vacation came following a dominant allowance win here at Santa Anita where he’s won 4 of 11 starts. He’s also 2 for 4 at the distance. Before that last score, he hadn’t won since Feb of 2020 when he went wire-to-wire to win the Gr. 2 San Pasqual. His workout pattern is spotty so, perhaps, he’s lost a step or two.
#3 Express Train failed as lukewarm 5/2 favorite at Del Mar in the Pacific Classic. #7 Tripoli and #1 Tizamagician finished one-two there. This 4-year-old colt is a multiple Gr. 2 winner and is twiced Gr. 1 placed. His best races are from just off the pace and he could be stalking #1 Tizamagician in the early going. He has just 1 win in 6 tries over the SA main, with 3 seconds and 1 third.
#4 Stilleto Boy is the Iowa Derby winner and one of 2 3-year-olds in the field. He’d need to run much better than he has in the past to win this.
#5 Medina Spirit is the current Kentucky Derby champ and the other 3-year-old signed on. Trainer Baffert skipped a date against fellow sophs last Saturday at Parx when this colt drew the 9-hole in the PA Derby. Funny reason to scratch from a $1 million race, but Baffert knew this one was on the docket and could be attacked from the colt’s own stall instead from across the country. Apparently, the older runners in Cali don’t scare Baffert too much. Medina Spirit is most effective when on the early pace and he’s probably quick enough to get to the front in here over #1 Tizamagician and #3 Express Train. All 4 of this colt’s losses are explicable because they either came against front-running shooting stars—twice to Life is Good and once to an uncontested Rock Your World—or when he came back too quickly in the Preakness. He’s the one to beat.
#6 Azul Coast is a 4-year-old from the Baffert stable who really hasn’t lived up to his early success. First out he won by 4, next out was second to Authentic in the Sham and then won the El Camino Real Stakes at Golden Gate. Four losses later, he won an optional claiming/allowance race at Del Mar last out.
#7 Tripoli upset the Gr. 1 Pacific Classic at 6.50-1 when just over a length better than #1 Tizamagician. It was the 4-year-old’s second win in 3 tries on dirt. The surface switch appears to have launched a new career for this colt and his last 3 races on the main have been strong. One back he finished right with #3 Express Train in the Gr. 2 San Diego Handicap. Low profile jockey TJ Pereira gets along with the colt well and probably will sit 3rd or 4th in the early going. He’s tough to ignore with a new lease on life.
#8 Idol is an interesting runner. He’s a 4-year-old with 3 wins in 6 starts, including an 9/2 upset of #3 Express Train and highly regarded Maxfield in the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March. He’s steadily improved for trainer Richard Baltas and is lightly-raced, suggesting that there may be more in the tank. He’s worked every 7-8 days and has a bullet, best of 11, six-furlong move. If one thinks there’s more to Baffert’s PA Derby scratch of #5 Medina Spirit than just post position and, if one is also unimpressed with the rest of the local handicap division, this guy’s a legitimate option on the come.
One to Beat: #5 Medina Spirit
Most Likely to Beat Him: #7 Tripoli, #1 Tizamagician
Wild Card at a Price: #8 Idol
John Henry Turf Championship
Grade 2 – One Mile & One-Quarter (Turf)
Three-Year-Olds & Upward
#1 Award Winner is a 5-year-old gelding with a 2-2 record at the distance and 2 wins and 2 seconds at Santa Anita. He’s got speed and will use it from the rail to get position. However, there’s plenty of other speed in here, so a wire-to-wire trip isn’t likely. His last 2 races at Del Mar weren’t his best, but he did win a Grade 2 at Santa Anita. A return to Arcadia might help and those who like him should get a price.
#2 Camino Del Paraiso is an 8-year-old Golden Gate invader who’s won 3 of his last 4—only loss coming at Del Mar with 3 wins up north. At 0-6 over the ‘Anita turf, he would be a surprise.
#3 Neptune’s Storm should add pace the race. He likes Santa Anita and never has been this distance. A mile is his best and he shouldn’t be able to steal away on the front end. He has some quality performances in his 5-year-old career, and he’s been training seriously at San Luis Rey for Del Mar’s top trainer Peter Miller. Might hang around for a piece under ‘Flo the jock.
#4 United is a 6-year-old gelding who loves Santa Anita and has 3 wins in 6 tries at the distance. Trainer Richard Mandella still is getting top performances from this guy and the work pattern suggests more is left in the tank. He’s the defending champ in here and with regular rider Prat up figures clearly as the one to beat. For some strange reason he seems to win every other race these days. Saturday fits into one of the ‘other’ races pattern.
#5 Ready Soul has improved since moving to the Phil D’Amato barn and has a win and close second against allowance foes in his last three races. He’s a 4-year-old and would need more improvement to win this but he’s probably got room to grow.
#6 Acclimate is a 7-year-old confirmed front-runner who will add early heat to this field. He’s pretty consistent with 3 seconds in 3 starts at the distance and he’s won 5 of 17 at Santa Anita. He’ll give you all he’s got for as long as he can. He’s usually a good bet to finish in the money; worse than third just four times in the last 12 starts.
#7 Master Piece is a 5-year-old ridgeling that has two races that fit but they were a year ago and in April. He’s faces Grade 1 foes in 3 of 5 US starts and just missed last out in the Gr. 2 Del Mar Handicap. He’ll appreciate a hot pace because he comes from well behind. He’s a bit of wild card in here.
#8 Count of Amazonia has 4 career wins and they all came over synthetic surfaces. The 4-year-old colt did run well last out in a Del Mar allowance race when lapped on #5 Ready Soul after a mile on grass. He would need to jump up considerably.
#9 Media Blitz is an improving 4-year-old from the Simon Callaghan outfit. He’s a bit interesting in here because he’s liable to be just off the early pacesetters. He owns a win and 2 seconds in 4 tries over the ‘Anita grass and a second in his only effort at the distance. He’s been working every 6 days for this and Callaghan is 23% off a layoff. Jockey JJ Hernandez rides and he’s got a win and a neck defeat with the son of Medaglia d’Oro. Sneaky exotic type.
#10 Red King got good last year at age 6 when he won an allowance race, a grade 3 and grade 2 stakes. Lately, he’s been close, but no cigar with 3 thirds in his last 5 races.
#11 Cupid’s Claws makes a first start for trainer Peter Miller and brings a 2 for 14 turf record into this. He’s 2 for 10 combined on dirt and synthetic and traded hands for $40-$50k this time last year.
#12 Friar’s Road is a 4-year-old who’s sharp off a first-level allowance win at Del Mar. He needs to improve quite a bit to win but he’s got room to grow. He was highly regarded last year when tried as a maiden in the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby. Turf specialist Rispoli returns and this one should be a big price. The post is no real help, but this guy could be coming around now at a big price in exotics.
#13 K P All Systems Go is a 4-year-old with a tough post and nothing really to suggest he can upset this field. He will be racing from off the pace, so he could pass some stragglers late.
Use: #4 United
Exotics: #3 Neptune’s Storm, #7 Master Piece, #9 Media Blitz, #12 Friar’s Road
$3 Late Pick 4 ($48)
#1, #2, #4, #6
#1, #5, #7, #8