Breeders' Cup prep hits fever pitch on Saturday, with stakes-laden cards at both Belmont and Santa Anita that have serious Breeders' Cup implication. Here at Picks and Ponderings, we'll take a detailed look at the Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1), a Win and You're In race (and local prep) for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. In addition, we will have selections for the stakes all day long at both Belmont and Santa Anita, shared in a chart below the preview of the Rodeo Drive.
In addition to the Rodeo Drive, three of the other stakes on Saturday offer Breeders' Cup bids to their winners. At Santa Anita, the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) serves as the local prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), and offers its winner a bid. Across the country at Belmont, the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) also has a bid in the Classic at stake, and the Vosburgh (G1) awards its winner a spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1).
Selections for the Rodeo Drive Stakes, John Henry Turf Championship, Unzip Me Stakes, and Pilgrim Stakes are made for turf only.
Race 9: Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 4:30pm PDT
This year marks the 43th running of the Rodeo Drive Stakes. Originally known as the Yellow Ribbon Handicap, the name of the race was changed to the current moniker in 2012. (The race at Del Mar now known as the Yellow Ribbon was known as the Palomar Handicap in 2011 and before.) The Rodeo Drive has always been run at a mile and a quarter on the turf, though in 2010 it was run at Hollywood Park instead of Santa Anita. The race got a Grade 1 for its third running in 1979, and has maintained that status ever since. One horse has won both the Beverly D and this race: Possibly Perfect (1993), who concluded her career with a win in the 1995 Beverly D. Estrapade (1985) won another well-regarded local grass race: in 1986, she beat males in the Arlington Million (G1). A more recent link between the Rodeo Drive Stakes and the local circuit came with 2012 winner Marketing Mix, who carried the Glen Hill Farm silks to victory in the 2011 Pucker Up Stakes (G3) at Arlington, and also finished second in the 2012 Beverly D (G1).
Marketing Mix, who had run 2nd in the Beverly D. (G1) at Arlington in her previous start, wins the 2012 Rodeo Drive Stakes. She would follow that up with a second-place finish behind Zagora in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare turf.
BEAU RECALL has been among the top of the West Coast turf mare contingent this year, though she gets a serious test in the Rodeo Drive. She has experienced a renaissance since moving to the Brad Cox barn last fall, never finishing worse than second in each of her last six races, including a win in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill and a placing in the Just a Game (G1) at Belmont. However, BEAU RECALL has a few questions that make her unappealing at a short price. For one, she is unproven at the mile and a quarter distance. She is a better horse than she was the last time she tried it (when running fourth in this race a year ago), but her better form has come over shorter trips, a mile and a mile and a sixteenth. Also, BEAU RECALL is a confirmed late runner. In a field of six horses without a ton of speed? Though it's likely she kicks on better than the likes of ELYSEA'S WORLD, SIBERIAN IRIS, or EXCELLENT SUNSET, the trouble is that BEAU RECALL may be coming on too late even if her improved form can carry her a mile and a quarter.
On the other hand, MIRTH experiences just as much of a pace advantage as BEAU RECALL experiences a disadvantage. Yes, MIRTH is taking a class rise for this; she has yet to try graded stakes company, and her best performance in a stakes at all came three back, when she finished second beaten a neck in the Possibly Perfect Stakes, a Listed race. But, that was at a mile and a quarter, suggesting she can get the trip. And, in a short field in which no one reliably sends to the lead, the fact that MIRTH has found herself so close to the front may put her on the front end by default. With the switch to ace big-race rider Mike Smith in the irons? He may just send her to the front and commit grand larceny to the tune of a six-figure purse split and a Breeders' Cup bid.
PAVED comes third off the layoff. She came on too late in the John Mabee (G2) last out at Del Mar, but was less than three lengths beaten by the likes of West Coast turf queen Vasilika and 2019 Modesty Handicap (G3) winner Juliet Foxtrot in that race. And, the stretch out to a mile and a quarter should play to PAVED's strengths. She should be able to sit closer than she did last time; she was finishing well in last year's Rodeo Drive, and missed by just half a length to Vasilika, who she will not have to face again this time around. At this distance she may get the jump on the deeper closers; if MIRTH doesn't stick around on the class rise, that first run may prove to be best run.
#1 MIRTH (6/1)
#6 PAVED (5/2)
#2 BEAU RECALL (9/5)
Longshot: The longshot writer will be MIRTHful at the windows if the top selection steals this race.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's stakes selections for Saturday at Belmont Park and Santa Anita Park. This will be updated as they finish handicapping. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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