On Saturday, December 26, racing resumes at Santa Anita. The opening card for the winter meet at the Great Race Place features four graded stakes races, with three of them final chances for sophomores to notch a big win against their own age group. The card features a pair of Grade I events, both seven-furlong dirt races restricted to three-year-olds: the Malibu, and its fillies' complement, the La Brea. Three-year-old turf milers also get one more shot in age-restricted company in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile. Rounding out the stakes portion of the card is the Daytona Stakes. That race, a sprint over Santa Anita's signature downhill turf course, is open to horses three and up.
In addition to this coverage of Hawthorne, Picks and Ponderings also has full-card Hawthorne selections and analysis for Saturday. Our own Paul Mazur will also be on Elite Racing Network on Saturday afternoon between 3:30pm and 5:30pm CST, to discuss Saturday's stakes races at Fair Grounds.
Selections in the Daytona and the Mathis Brothers Mile are for turf only.
Race 4: Daytona Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, about six and a half furlongs on the downhill turf, post time 1:38pm PST
The stakes portion of Saturday's card at Santa Anita begins with the twelfth running of the Daytona Stakes. Ever since its inauguration in 2004, the race has always been carded as a six and a half furlong sprint on the downhill grass. However, it has thrice been washed to dirt: 2005, 2006, and December of 2012. It was originally run in February, then pushed to January, and then Santa Anita moved it to December in 2012 -- leading to the oddity that both Caracortado and Comma to the Top won this race that year. It has been a Grade III since 2009, and retains that distinction this year. The most accomplished winner of the Daytona Stakes to date has been Desert Code (2009). He won the Daytona in his first start back after the 2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, which he won as a 36/1 longshot for trainer David Hofmans. Unbridled's Note (2013) had also acquitted himself well in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, finishing second behind Mizdirection in 2012.
The popular Caracortado makes Trevor Denman eat his words, rallying from the clouds to win the Daytona Stakes in January of 2012.
The Daytona Stakes offers a $100,000 purse again this year. It drew a full field of fourteen, though PLAINVIEW was an early stakes scratch. The race should have a lively pace, as RICHARD'S BOY, BIG CAZANOVA, MYSTERY TRAIN, and ROCKET HEAT have all done their best work by far on the front end. Among those, downhill maven RICHARD'S BOY seems the most likely to stay on, as he is a bit ratable, and has shown some ability to duel. However, with all that other speed and the rail draw, he seems a defensive use at best. The most interesting and playable horses in this field are all ones who stand to be mowing down this set through the straight.
TOOWINDYTOHAULROX has made the jump from consistent allowance horse to one who proves he belongs in stakes company. He finished a troubled third in the Eddie D (GIII) down the hill in October, and was also third as a 48/1 bomb in the Seabiscuit (GII) at Del Mar last out. He cuts back from a mile and a sixteenth in that last race to six and a half furlongs here. Trainer Phil D'Amato is a 31% winner (with +$1.06 ROI) in sprint-route-sprint patterns, and TOOWINDYTOHAULROX has never missed the board in five starts going six and a half. He has also been on the board in six out of eight starts at Santa Anita, further suggesting affinity. In terms of pace, he can rally from a stalking spot, the rear, or anywhere in between. This both keeps him out of the front-end fireworks, as well as gives regular rider Tiago Pereira some flexibility on where to place him. His speed, style, and affinity for the course all fit, an outside post (post 13) never hurts down the hill, and TOOWINDYTOHAULROX should be a square price to boot.
ALERT BAY has never tried the hill, but he is one of those horses who has succeeded at just about anything he has tried. Relevant to this race, he has already shown an affinity for the Santa Anita turf, having racked up four wins and a third-place finish in five tries over the course. Most of his work has been in route races, though his last sprint outing -- a troubled fourth in a turf dash at Golden Gate -- was not bad. Six and a half furlongs should suit this son of City Zip better than five, anyway. Though ALERT BAY can be forwardly placed, he can also rally from a handful back. That was the style that rider Martin Garcia took when he piloted Alert Bay to victory in the City of Hope Mile (GII) three starts back. ALERT BAY's consistency and his speed figures make him hard to count out, even when trying something new like this. The third slot was a tight call between NO SILENT and HOLY LUTE, a pair of runners who are almost a 3/3C here. They have both shown competitive speed, and solid form down the hill. HOLY LUTE gets the nod since he is likely to be a slightly longer price, and has been a bit more consistent than NO SILENT. HOLY LUTE has never missed the board at six and a half furlongs, with a win and four seconds in five starts. Four of those came at Santa Anita, with the other being a second in a stakes at Kentucky Downs. He keeps rider Santiago Gonzalez in the irons, a particularly encouraging sign since Gonzalez has been riding him off the pace more often; other riders had placed him far more forward in his earlier races. HOLY LUTE should relish the return to his favourite course, and should be rallying into the tiring speeds late.
#13 TOOWINDYTOHAULROX (12/1)
#7 ALERT BAY (5/1)
#9 HOLY LUTE (9/2)
Longshot: Going back to how much speed this race drew, a long-priced closer who has proven form on the hill demands a good look. Enter #8 BENCH WARRANT (20/1). This John Sadler trainee has gone done the hill three times, and has not turned in a bad effort in any of those three starts. He has a win against allowance company and a win in last spring's Baffle Stakes, and then a late-rallying fourth in the Desert Code Stakes in May. BENCH WARRANT spent the summer on the bench, and returned in October. He comes in third off that layoff here, and returns to the hill he likes so much for the first time since that break. Pacewise, he rallies from the middle to back of the pack, and he has late pace numbers that stand up to any of the shorter-priced contenders. This is enough to like him at what are certain to be boxcar odds.
Race 6: Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, one mile on the turf, post time 2:47pm PST
This race, a turf mile for three-year-olds, will be run for the sixteenth time this year. It was inaugurated as the Sir Beaufort Stakes in 2000, and run under that moniker through 2014. Sir Beaufort, the race's original namesake, was a curious namesake for a turf race for three-year-olds. The Charlie Whittingham trainee won three graded stakes, including the Big 'Cap in 1993, but all those graded wins came on dirt at the ages of five and six. It was renamed in 2014 as part of a marketing agreement between Santa Anita and Mathis Brothers Furniture. To date, the most accomplished winner of this race was its 2008 winner, Gio Ponti. He proceeded to win Eclipse Awards for Champion Grass Horse in 2009 and 2010, as well as Champion Older Horse in 2009. He acquitted himself very well in the Chicago area, particularly: he won the Arlington Million (GI) in 2009, and was second in both 2010 and 2011. 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Champion Sprinter Orientate, who is most noted for his work on dirt, also won the Sir Beaufort in 2001. Last year's winner, the versatile and honest Alert Bay, returns on this card; he goes down the hill in the Daytona.
This year's Mathis Brothers Mile offers a $200,000 purse, on par with last year's, and drew a field of twelve. OM is the morning line favourite, and deservedly so. No longer just That Horse Who Won The Om Race, he has proven himself to be a serious runner on the Southern California grass circuit. He has a 5-3-1-1 line over the green stuff, with wins in both of his starts over the grass, including a wire-to-wire win in the Twilight Derby two starts back. He also has a win in his only try at a flat mile on grass. The biggest question surrounding OM is his running style. He is a speed horse, and with ACCEPTANCE in the field, he is either going to have to try to take it to him, or sit off like he did last out in the Hollywood Derby (GI). Perhaps he still wins even if he has to stalk; he finished a game third behind Chiropractor in that last start, when forced off the pace early. However, as the likely chalk, that question is enough to make it worth hunting for value.
That value comes with CRITTENDEN. He was a disappointing twelfth in the Hollywood Derby last out, but two starts back he mustered a sharp stalking win in the restricted Let It Ride Stakes. That win two back was at a flat mile, the same as this race. That win was also his first race since the beginning of September, so perhaps the flat effort last out was a regression after a big first-off-the-lay race. He also gets Martin Garcia back in the irons; the only time Garcia rode CRITTENDEN was that win two back. His other stakes win also came at a similar distance on the grass, the seven and a half furlong PDJF Stakes at Indiana Grand, suggesting that this horse may be a miler after all. In terms of running style, he does his best work from just off the pace, setting up perfectly to get first run on the likes of OM and ACCEPTANCE.
MISTER BRIGHTSIDE is another who should be stalking and pouncing. He finished a troubled ninth in the Hollywood Derby last out, but was second behind OM in the Twilight Derby two starts back. In that race, he was just off the pace, and though he could not run down OM late, there is a far better chance that OM does not get the loose lead here that he had there. This will be MISTER BRIGHTSIDE's first try going a flat mile, but the distance should suit. He has won at seven furlongs, has a second-place finish going seven and a half, and his solid effort in the nine-furlong Twilight Derby suggests he can go farther than just extended sprints. Finally, MISTER BRIGHTSIDE gets a rider change to Mike Smith, as well -- always a positive sign in big-money races.
#3 CRITTENDEN (12/1)
#10 OM (5/2)
#6 MISTER BRIGHTSIDE (4/1)
Longshot: #12 FUELED BY BOURBON (10/1) not only accurately describes this half of Picks and Ponderings, but is an intriguing price horse in the Mathis Brothers Mile. He tries graded stakes company for the first time here. Though his previous stakes tries have been less than excellent, none of them have happened over his favourite track. He is a perfect three-for-three over the grass at Santa Anita. Though those three starts all came down the hill, FUELED BY BOURBON was second beaten just a neck in a turf mile allowance against older last out at Del Mar. His recent speed figures, since being claimed into the barn of Peter Miller, are in range of what he needs to show here. In terms of pace, he has some versatility; he has done his best work stalking the pace, but his last-out second showed that he can run well from a bit farther back too. Class is the question here, but the price will be long enough to bet FUELED BY BOURBON finds enough gas.
Race 7: La Brea Stakes (GI), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:20pm PST
The La Brea Stakes will be contested for the 43rd time this weekend. The race was originally a 1 1/16 mile test, but was cut back to its current seven-furlong distance in 1978. Historically, this race served as the beginning of a three-race series, which continued with the El Encino Stakes (GII) and culminated with the the La Canada Stakes (GII). It was fillies' equivalent of the Strub Series, but like the Strub, it is for all practical purposes defunct. The El Encino, once the second race in that series, has not been run since 2011. The La Canada still exists, but as of its 2016 rendition it will be open to four-year-olds and up, not straight four-year-olds. Notable winners of the La Brea over the years have included multiple graded stakes winner (and Storm Cat's dam) Terlingua (1980), 1997 Beldame Stakes winner Hidden Lake (1996), and broodmare Hookedonthefeelin (1999) -- who not only produced sprinter and stallion Jimmy Creed, but also another La Brea winner in Pussycat Doll (2005).
This year's renewal of the La Brea offers a $300,000 purse, same as last year, and drew a field of ten three-year-old fillies. HOT CITY GIRL figures on the front end, but LILY POD, PLEASANT TALES, and FINEST CITY could figure to make things hot for her early. That could set up for a closer, and there are two in here with form against older. Form against older is always a good thing to see in straight three-year-old races. BEN'S DUCHESS won the L. A. Woman (GIII) last out, rallying into a complete pace collapse to get the best of Uzziel and Taris. That race's form carried: Uzziel won the Goldikova Stakes (GII) next out, and Taris posted a solid third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in her next start. Though BEN'S DUCHESS will not likely get a complete collapse here, she should get some pace, and she has won races from closer to the pace than she was last out, in slower pace scenarios. Her consistency also stands out -- in nine races, this daughter of Munnings has won four times, and never finished out of the money. She has a 5-3-0-2 line on the Santa Anita main, as well. CAVORTING has not yet posted a victory against older company, but she did finish a late-running fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last out. Speed carried well, with La Verdad and Taris both staying on to hit the trifecta, yet CAVORTING rallied from the clouds, went wide, and made a big late run for fourth. That was at seven furlongs, the same distance as the La Brea. She also has a seven-furlong win to her credit, a clear score in the Test (GI) this summer. Though she has not raced at Santa Anita yet, she has posted a work there, suggesting she is settling in and ready to run.
If speed does carry, or everyone else takes back a bit, HOT CITY GIRL could prove tough. This filly has proven herself to be a strong extended sprint type, with two wins and a second in four starts going seven furlongs, and three straight wins at six and a half and seven furlongs leading into this race. She has done her best work on the lead, but has also won from just off the pace early, showing some ability to stay engaged when she does not get the lead outright. She has also shown an ability to survive a contested pace scenario, important with those possible gadflies in the field. Trainer Linda Rice is extremely sharp in graded stakes (32% wins, 56% in the money) and with shippers (22% wins, 57% in the money). The local work at Santa Anita suggests that Rice means business here, and HOT CITY GIRL should be the one the closers have to run down late.
#6 BEN'S DUCHESS (3/1)
#3 CAVORTING (5/2)
#2 HOT CITY GIRL (3/1)
Longshot: #10 FINEST CITY (8/1) has only raced five times so far, and has not yet tried stakes company on the dirt. Her only stakes try was on the turf, a fourth in the Unzip Me over the hill at Santa Anita. In four starts over the dirt, she has never missed the exacta. Though all of those came at six furlongs, the stretch to seven should be no problem for this daughter of City Zip out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare. She was right on the front in her two tries against maiden special weight company, though her two dirt races in allowance company had her setting off the pace a bit better -- a positive sign that she may not get locked into front-end fireworks here. FINEST CITY will have to prove her class here, but at a price, her speed and her maturing running style make her worth considering.
Race 8: Malibu Stakes (GI), three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:52pm PST
This year marks the 64rd running of the Malibu Stakes, a race inaugurated at Santa Anita in 1952 as the Malibu Sequet Stakes, and changed to its current name in 1958. For many years, it was the first in a series of three races which culminated in the Strub Stakes, a race restricted to four-year-olds and run in early February. However, the Strub Series is history; both the Strub (GII) nor the San Fernando (GII) disappeared from the calendar in 2015. The Malibu alone remains. Only two Kentucky Derby winners have proceeded to win the Malibu: Spectacular Bid (1980) and Ferdinand (1986). Still, winners of the Malibu Stakes over the years have included multiple Hall of Fame inductees: pivotal sire Round Table (1957), California hero Native Diver (1962), four-time Arlington Park stakes winner (and five-time Eclipse award winner) Buckpasser (1966), 1967 Preakness winner Damascus (1968), and former Santa Anita Sprint Championship namesake Ancient Title (1974). Last year, Shared Belief successfully shortened up to seven furlongs; he called on all his class to beat sharp sprinter Conquest Two Step. Next out, Conquest Two Step would get the best of Secret Circle.
Shared Belief holds Conquest Two Step at bay to win the 2014 Malibu Stakes.
The Malibu once again offers a $300,000 purse, and a field of seven has lined up to contend. Breeders' Cup Sprint (GI) winner RUNHAPPY headlines the field. RUNHAPPY will be the chalk, but rightfully so. He is the fastest horse in this field. The biggest question that lingered around his racing prowess -- the question of his ability to rate -- was answered in the Breeders' Cup Sprint when he sat off the pace, rallied, and won. The biggest question around him going into the Malibu has nothing to do with his ability to run: it is the trainer change. The last time Laura Wohlers was his trainer of record, she entered him in the LeComte Stakes (GIII). It was just his second start, and was likely too much too fast. This time, she entered him in a far more logical spot. RUNHAPPY beat far tougher company last out, and he already has a seven-furlong victory in the King's Bishop this summer. The worktab is nothing anomalous compared to what RUNHAPPY was posting with previous trainer Maria Borell.
In short? Though the 6/5 morning line on RUNHAPPY seems a bit optimistic, this space sees the chance that some will shy away from betting him as a chance for some value on him. Most likely, he sets the fractions, whether he breaks well or not. Perhaps he sits off early if the likes of BAD READ SANCHEZ or EL KABEIR guns it -- less likely, but something this colt can handle. The fact remains that RUNHAPPY is a freak. He should win, he should romp, and he is a confident single.
One horse who stands to outrun his odds is PAIN AND MISERY. New Mexico horses so rarely take money elsewhere, and that means value here. PAIN AND MISERY has several signs pointing to him hitting the board here at long odds. He comes in third off the lay, and has run two crackers in his first two races back. Sure, they were both against softer stuff at Zia. But, the speed figures are competitive with what he needs to do well against this field. He has never tried seven furlongs before, but he does have extended one-turn form against classy horses. PAIN AND MISERY finished second in the one-turn Pat Day Mile (GIII) at Churchill Downs -- well beaten by Competitive Edge, but well clear of Gimme Da Lute. In terms of pace, he is versatile enough to win on the front or rally from a few off; given the composition of this field, expect the latter. With Tyler Baze getting the call, PAIN AND MISERY should get a smart ride, and he stands to finish in the frame at boxcar odds. For the third slot, MARKING and LORD NELSON both got a long look. LORD NELSON has not raced since a disappointing fourth in the Pat Day Mile in May. He does have a long, solid worktab, and has won off a layoff before. However, it is hard to know how well he has developed since May. This makes MARKING a bit more attractive here. MARKING is lightly raced, with only two starts to his name. However, both of those starts have been against older: a maiden win at Belmont in September, and an N1X romp at Aqueduct in November. They were both at extended one-turn distances. His maiden win covered six and a half furlongs, and the allowance victory came at the one-turn mile. Thus, the seven panels of the Malibu should suit MARKING well. In both of his victories, he stalked and pounced, a style that should have him in contention no matter who (if anyone) sends with the favourite. He is a horse with a lot of potential, and though matching RUNHAPPY will likely prove too much to ask, the form he has shown so far puts him in the frame.
#4 RUNHAPPY (6/5)
#1 PAIN AND MISERY (20/1)
#2 MARKING (5/2)
Longshot: The longshot writer already left to go sing old Hole songs at karaoke.
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