Saturday's card at Santa Anita features the first chance for the Derby-bound to get points in 2018, with the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. Sunday, however, is all about the fillies: the day's feature, the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes, is the first Kentucky Oaks points race of the year.
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. Through most of its recent history it has covered seven furlongs; for 2012-2016 it shortened up to six and a half, but last year it returned to its current trip. 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 classy, durable 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. Many wondered whether last year's winner, Unique Bella, would match that feat. Unfortunately, injury sidelined her, and she missed the Oaks. Unique Bella, however, did become a Grade 1 winner on opening day of this Santa Anita meet, overtaking Paradise Woods to annex the La Brea.
Unique Bella makes the easiest work of the 2017 Santa Ynez Stakes.
Even despite its lack of Oaks champions, the winners' roll of the Santa Ynez contains several other leading lights. Terlingua (1979), a multiple graded stakes winner in her own right, produced leading stallion Storm Cat. Serena's Song (1995), champion sophomore filly of her year and a Hall of Fame inductee, was a multiple Grade 1 winner against fillies and also beat males (including Tejano Run and Mecke) in the Jim Beam Stakes (G2). She would also pass her class on to her progeny. She produced six stakes winners including sires Grand Reward and Harlington, and she is the third dam of Honor Code.
Morning lines for the Santa Ynez Stakes were not available at original publish time.
Santa Anita Park - Sunday, January 7
Race 8: Santa Ynez Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:00pm PST
ARTISTIC DIVA's debut impressed me. Though she was the heavy favourite, the "poor start, then hustle up" has been the demise of many chalks. Not ARTISTIC DIVA -- she still had enough to win by daylight. She got out far better in her next start, the Anoakia Stakes, and she left the rest of the field (including several foes here) squabbling for minor awards. That Anoakia score also proved ARTISTIC DIVA can handle conventional dirt, as her debut came on the grass. Though the Santa Ynez pace will be honest, with WAR HEROINE and the blinkers-back-on JUST A SMIDGE also likely to be prominent, ARTISTIC DIVA looks the best of the speed -- she should be fast and game enough to dictate matters a long way from the rail. The distance is also a positive; ARTISTIC DIVA is a daughter of Munnings, whose babies tend to love seven furlongs just as much as Dear Old Dad did. Though more distance down the Oaks trail may be a question -- dad says probably not, but mom (a Mizzen Mast half-sister to G1-placed Illinois-bred dirt router Diva's Diamond) says maybe so -- we're just looking at the Santa Ynez for now, and ARTISTIC DIVA looks like just the kind of horse who can get the job done at a fair price.
Trainer Peter Miller, whose barn continues to be red-hot, sends a pair in here. Last-out maiden winner WAR HEROINE stands to be prominent early, but may have her hands full with ARTISTIC DIVA. If Miller gets a win picture after the Santa Ynez, he has a better chance to do so with ALLIANNA. She settled just off the pace in both of her starts; though she was no match for Dream Tree on debut, ALLIANNA kicked on to win comfortably second out. Her pedigree should be just fine for the stretch out from six furlongs to seven here, and if the speed gives out, ALLIANNA looks likely to lie in wait from the next flight back, ready to get first jump on the vanguard. That may just get her home.
WIN THE WAR, like ARTISTIC DIVA, carries a perfect two-for-two line into the Santa Ynez. WIN THE WAR is the only runner in the field with a win going seven furlongs -- and she also has a victory at six and a half, just for good measure. The question for her is the surface. Her debut score came in a turf sprint at Woodbine, and her follow-up win in the listed Glorious Song Stakes came over the Toronto-area Tapeta. But, the daughter of War Front is out of City Sister -- graded stakes placed on dirt, and already a proven producer of stakes-quality dirt horses. Finally, the humans speak well. Rider Tyler Gaffalione has been strong with trainer Mark Casse in recent months, and he would not be flying cross-country unless his mount was live.
#1 ARTISTIC DIVA
#7 WIN THE WAR
Longshot: It's getting a little late for maidens in points preps, but #8 MIDNIGHT BISOU is in no way over her head here despite the naught in her win column. On debut, she finished second beaten a nose by Dream Tree. Last out, in the Desi Arnaz, she once again finished second beaten a nose by Dream Tree. That foe returned to make a comfortable score in the Starlet (G1) at Los Alamitos. MIDNIGHT BISOU, on the other hand, gets out of her shadow here. The Desi Arnaz was a seven-furlong race, the same distance as the Santa Ynez. The debut came at Santa Anita, showing she can handle the footing over this track. MIDNIGHT BISOU does need to get over her "too little, too late" problem -- but with a likely honest pace and a key rider switch to Mike Smith, she just might.
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