Jeff Siegel's Santa Anita Analysis (Thu., Feb. 23, 2012)

The Thursday program begins with a below average maiden sprint down the hill for fillies and mares. #4 Elusive Cookies (winless in eight starts) looks like the best of the known element, while #6 Afleet Slew has trained well enough to score at first asking but comes from a stable that doesn’t have a reputation for winning with debut runners. Of the two we’d probably prefer the newcomer but this is hardly any kind of prime play.

The second race is a $40,000 claimer for 3-year-olds and we find it inscrutable. #1 Plenny of Henny returns for his first start since being claimed by Troy Taylor on New Year’s Eve. The son of Henny Hughes missed the entire month of January (no works or races) so there would seem to be a major condition question. If he fires, he’ll do his best work from off the pace. #3 Forest Souvenir, a beaten choice last month in his first start since October, had a right to need the run and could move forward today for Mullins, though he shows no works since his last race and that was almost a month ago. On the plus side, Bejarano rides him back. There are too many mixed signals to back either one with confidence, so we’ll sit this one out.

The Pick-6 begins with first level state bred fillies and mares traveling a mile on turf. Both #3 Sunburn and #4 Arrivederci Caro exit the same race – a replica of this event on Jan. 19 - and both finished in the picture with Sunburn fourth (as the choice) and Arrivederci Caro second in what seemed to be a representative race for the level. Bejarano stays aboard Sunburn and should be in the thick of things again while Berrios remains on ‘Caro, whose 2-for-39 overall mark (with nine seconds and six thirds) probably suggests she should be played underneath only in the exacta or trifecta. The contention may run deeper, though. The Headley-trained #2 Elana Mar came off a seventh month layoff to graduate over this course and distance recently and did so with some authority; why can’t she move forward just a bit and win right back? And #6 Shezabigbroad is a first-off-the-claim for Mitchell (34%, flat-bet profit), so who knows how much improvement she’ll be able to show in her first start on grass? Suggestion: prefer Sunburn and then use the others if you can afford to.

Bottom rung ($20,000) maiden claimers sprint six furlongs in the fourth race. #7 Smart Hombre is 6/5 on the morning line following a close third (four clear of the rest) after setting the pace and holding on gamely in a similar event last month. The Jones-trained gelding lands the cozy outside post and seems fairly logical, though he offers little to no value in the straight pool. #6 Cheers to Boogie looks to be developing a style – he wants to settle and make a run – and with only a mild amount of improvement could be dangerous in the final furlong.

The fifth race appears to be reasonably competitive with at least three major players in a one mile starter’s allowance affair for 3-year-old fillies on turf. #2 Dustin’s Magic earned modest numbers in her first two starts, a maiden claiming sprint win and a main track miler here last month, but she’s bred to move up considerably on turf and gets her first chance today. She’s back with Rosario, who won her at Hollywood Park, and the Eurton-trained daughter of Grand Slam might show more tactical speed today if she can manage to leave with her field for the first time. A pair of nice, easy works since her last race is encouraging. #3 Scream Queen, third in the same race Dustin’s Magic exits, also is trying the lawn for the first time and with Red Ransom on the bottom of her pedigree she should enjoy the switch to sod as well. Sutherland will have her prominent throughout. #5 Warren’s Amber, a useful third in the Cal Breeders’ Stakes on opener day, returns following a nearly two month hiatus but a pair of recent 59 and change workouts should have her fit and ready. She’ll be trying turf and two turns for the first time but her pedigree suggests she’ll enjoy both immensely. She’s the one to beat and small ticket players might consider the Gutierrez-trained filly as a possible single.

The sixth race – a low level restricted (nw-2) one mile claimer for fillies and mares – looks made to order for #3 Valentine’s Wish. She exits a hot sprint vs. tougher in which she closed with some interest but too late to wind up a well-beaten fourth, and because that was her first start since November the daughter of Afleet Alex likely will step forward with the added distance and easier assignment. At 9/5 on the morning line she really doesn’t offer much value but there simply isn’t much to work with in this rather uninspiring heat.

You probably don’t remember that #8 Matto Mondo was the post time favorite in the 2009 Santa Anita Handicap (he finished fourth behind Einstein). Four years and a couple of suspicious tendons later, the Chilean-gelding seems to back in his finest form, or at least it looked that way when he smothered a tough $40,000 claiming field last month with a eye opening display of late speed that resulted in a nearly five length romp with a powerful 95 Beyer figure. Claimed by Steve Asmussen out of that race, he returns in today's seventh race on the one level raise while switching to Nakatani and anything close to a repeat performance buries this group right back. Once a dominant front runner, Matto Mondo seems noticeably more comfortable now if taken back and allowed to produce on late run. Hopefully, he’ll get that kind of trip again today.

The eighth race looks problematic; we’re not sure if any of the main contenders are trustworthy. #4 King Cola is winless since the fall of 2010 but earned a career top Beyer figure when second vs. similar earlier this month and has hit the board in 10 of 16 career starts. You have to make him a contender. #6 Deluxe Bus, a reasonable third sprinting for $25,000 last month, surfaces for $10,000 today and you have to wonder what kind of shape this winner of six of 13 starts presently is in. If you can afford to go a bit deeper you should also consider the Bay Area invader #2 Liquid Asset (the Tapeta to dirt switch always is a good long shot angle) and #7 Tiz Liberty, who earned a number over this main track during the fall meeting that makes him dangerous. Best advice is to spread the race and hope you make it this far in your rolling exotics.