Saturday, the Kentucky Derby dreamers had their day at Santa Anita in the Sham Stakes. Sunday belongs to the fillies, in the 66th running of the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes.
As with so many stakes races at Santa Anita, this race takes its name from a place on the map. Santa Ynez, California, a valley town about 135 miles northwest of Santa Anita racetrack. Inaugurated in 1952 as a six-furlong sprint, it has varied in distance between six and a half furlongs and seven since 1954. Its most recent runnings, 2012-2015, covered six and a half; this year, it once again stretches out to seven. In addition to shares of a $200,000 purse, the Santa Ynez also offers Road to the Kentucky Oaks points, apportioned 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.
So far, just one winner of the Santa Ynez Stakes has gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks: the indomitable Susan's Girl (1972). She would be named champion three-year-old filly of her year, and would also be named champion older mare in 1974 and 1976. Beholder will likely match that feat this year, as she already earned champion three-year-old filly honours in 2013 as well as champion older mare last year. However, the Santa Ynez was one of the few California races that eluded Queen B. In the 2013 renewal, longshot Renee's Titan rode the rail, mowed Beholder down...then rewarded winning rider Tyler Baze by dumping him on the gallop out.
Renee's Titan, rallying from last, upsets Beholder in the 2013 Santa Ynez Stakes.
The Santa Anita website carries a free live stream of this, and all races from Santa Anita.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated Sunday, January 8 to account for the scratches of SANDY'S SURPRISE, CARRIE, NOTED AND QUOTED, and GO ON MARY.
Santa Anita Park - Sunday, January 8
Santa Ynez Stakes (GII), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:00pm PST
Trainer Doug O'Neill has thrice won the Santa Ynez: with the aforementioned Renee's Titan (2013), and also with Sharp Lisa (2005) and California Nectar (2011). This year, he empties the barn: out of the nine entrants, three hail from his shedrow. This includes the top two selections.
SHANE'S GIRLFRIEND may not have beaten a ton in the Delta Princess (GIII) last out, but she certainly did it the right way. However, she has a maiden win -- going one turn at Santa Anita -- that was sharp enough to prove she does not need a Cajun bullring to run a cracker. It also helps that she can sit just a bit off the pace if she needs. Even after scratches, the field has several who have done best on the front (UNIQUE BELLA, PRINCESS KAREN, IT TIZ WELL), and though all are so lightly raced that they may have rating skills thus far unneeded, it helps that SHANE'S GIRLFRIEND did sit just off before her Delta Princess romp. She has never run on an off track, but being by Adios Charlie (a 24% mud sire!) out of a Proud Citizen mare, the mud breeding is there. The connections stand out, too. In addition to Doug O'Neill's excellent record in this race, SHANE'S GIRLFRIEND also gets red-hot Flavien Prat in the irons. Prat rode her at Delta, and has started the Santa Anita meet with seven wins in his first 28 tries.
UNIQUE BELLA comes in as the buzz horse. She steps up from maiden company here, but won decisively in her second career start. Her breeding could not be more fashionable (by Tapit out of 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Unrivaled Belle), and proven big-race rider Mike Smith returns to the irons. UNIQUE BELLA graduated on the front end, but could well be able to change it up -- as evidenced by the fact that she closed ground for second in her debut going five panels. That gives less pause about her ability to adapt here than some others. This is where UNIQUE BELLA can prove she is as good as everyone thinks -- but the short price makes her a defensive use.
Rail-drawn RESILIENT HUMOR steps up here from maiden company. But, she graduated first out, giving her the possibility for second-start progression. The pace also favours her, as she is the closest thing this field has to a closer. In her debut victory, she rallied from mid-pack to win by daylight at 32/1. This will be a jump forward in class, and also a step ahead in distance. RESILIENT HUMOR graduated at five and a half furlongs at Los Alamitos. But, seven furlongs should suit her fine. Sire Distorted Humor waves no red flags at this distance, and dam Sassy Image won a Grade I going seven furlongs (the 2011 Humana Distaff). Any moisture in the track should be no problem, either, given her breeding. Perhaps second-start progression, a pace advantage, and her pedgiree can help RESILIENT HUMOR sweeten the exotics.
#8 SHANE'S GIRLFRIEND (9/5)
#3 UNIQUE BELLA (8/5)
#1 RESILIENT HUMOR (30/1)
Longshot: I tried to wake up the longshot writer, but they were up a little late last night and wouldn't deign to get out of bed for a five-horse field.