Jeff Siegel’s Santa Anita Post-Mortem – thru Sunday, February 18, 2019


First-time routing is a potentially lucrative angle.  First time turf – especially with Unusual Heat on the bottom-side of the pedigree – also is a dangerous angle. Inheriting the role as the controlling speed from a good inside draw is a slam-dunk angl.  Put them all together at 10-1 and you have a play, in this case Mucho Unusual, who dominated her rivals in the California Cup Oaks after setting slow splits and then kicking clear when turned loose into the lane.  A beaten short-priced favorite in her last two starts sprinting on dirt, the daughter of Mucho Macho Man probably should stay on grass from now on and we suspect that’s what trainer Tim Yakteen is planning to do.  Runner-up Lippy (Square Eddie), making her first start since last August, was a stakes winner on dirt as a 2-year-old, so trainer Doug O’Neill can probably look in both directions, though we suspect she’ll eventually prove best on the sod.  As for the 6/5 favorite Apache Princess, she was wide throughout and not persevered with by jockey Kent Desormeaux through the lane while winding fifth, beaten seven lengths.  She was being brought back in eight days and simply couldn’t handle the quick turnaround.  Additionally, this was her fourth start of the meeting, so a vacation seems warranted.  She can bounce back.



It’s not unusual for a horse to produce a significant forward move in his first start following a claim; often times the new trainer finds something to correct or tries something new with regards to equipment, distance, surface, or tactics.  Blitzkrieg had just earned a career top speed figure for trainer Richard Mandella when he won a restricted (nw-2) $25,000 claimer down the hill in January but was claimed out of the race by Doug O’Neill.  This stable has superior recent stats with the first-off-the-claim angle, so it was hardly a stretch to expect the son of War Front to produce a forward move, but not this much.  Drafting into a perfect stalking position through the openeing half mile, Blitzkrieg accelerated suddenly and blew past the leaders with an unexpected turn of foot that only good horses have before hitting the wire six lengths clear of the stunned also-rans while earning a 90 Beyer figure, eight points better than his career best.  The gelding has all of his allowance conditions and likely will use them, either sprinting or routing.

Angel Alessandra, with the highly-popular route-to-spring angle in her chart, added blinkers for the first time and crushed her first-level allowance rivals in the third race, a Hillside turf affair for 3-year-old fillies.  She gives the impression that she’s most comfortable as late-running sprinter, though she did break her maiden over a mile as a two-year-old last summer at Del Mar.  If he believes it was mostly the blinkers that woke her up, trainer Peter Miller could again opt to stretch her out, where most of the money is.  Third-place finisher Gallovie, making her U.S. debut after displaying some promise as a two-year-old in England, seemed poised to pounce on the leaders approaching the dirt crossing but was forced to steady sharply and  lost all of her momentum.  She wasn’t going to win but we would have liked to see how much of a late kick she would have been able to produce.  The Baltas-trained filly probably will return in a similar spot next time.



Hard Not to Love, a one-eyed first-timer by Hard Spun and a half-sister to Tropical Park Derby winner Solemn Tribute, brought $400,000 at Keeneland as a yearling and had trained quite well for her debut in today’s first race, a maiden special weight sprint for sophomore fillies.  She was expected to receive a ton of action on the tote, so it was somewhat surprising that she left at what appeared to be overlay odds of 3-1 in a field that, quite frankly, didn’t appear all that strong on paper.  We can only surmise that the major punters were a bit reluctant to “send it in” on a first-time starter trained by John Shirreffs, whose record with debut winners is – how shall we put it? – lacking.  But Hard Not to Love proved to be the exception to the rule and graduated at first asking in a very pleasing manner.  Her 77 Beyer number was useful, not great, but hardly represents what she’ll be capable of with experience, distance, and even turf.  She’s also Canadian-bred and her connections may choose to exploit that option down the road.

We’re going to give Play Money another chance after the hot-shot first-timer from the Hofmans barn failed at 6/5 when facing an admittedly modest band state-bred maidens in the fifth race.  The Triple Crown-nominated son of Unusual Heat appeared to be plenty fit and ready based on a series of sharp workouts, but when the latch sprung he simply stood there, and then, after rushing up wildly to press the pace, lost his air in the final furlong, eventually winding up fourth, beaten nearly six lengths.  Let’s hope he leaves with his field next time.  The winner turned out to be the second-timer Prodigal Son, himself a victim of trouble in his debut last month.  However, the 62 Beyer number came up light, so he’ll be hard pressed to win on the raise.



Enlisting has all the makings of a shrewd claim by trainer Bob Hess. In her third career start but her first on dirt and her first in a maiden seller, the daughter of Candy Ride left her previous modest form far behind by dismantling her rivals by more than 14 lengths in today’s fifth race while earning a Beyer speed figure of 73, a significant improvement off her previous race’s career top of 60.  And the margin of victory (and the number) would have been greater had she not been allowed to coast home in the final furlong.  She only brought $50,000 at the Timonium 2-year-old in training sale last May, so either she had issues or didn’t preview particularly well, but whatever the case she’s worth a lot more than that now.  Hess, who is not averse to checking out the Golden Gate Fields condition book, might look to the north to find a much easier allowance spot than he’s liable to locate here.



 We’re not saying that he’ll be this good, but the first-timer Bump Bailey gave about as good of an impression of Roy H as trainer Peter Miller could have hoped for when winning at 12-1 in today’s eighth race finale for maiden 3-year-olds.  Completely ignored on the tote at 12-1 – Miller had three in the field and they all trained at San Luis Rey Downs, so who knew? – the $190,000 auction purchase quickly made the lead in the five and one-half furlong dash and never looked like losing, checking in 3 ½ lengths clear of the pack without being asked for anything remotely close to his best.   While most of the bettors didn’t latch on – they were probably mesmerized by Stretford End at 2/5 – there was evidence if you looked hard enough that Bump Bailey had plenty of talent.  Last May at the Barretts two-year-old-in-training sale, the son of Fed Biz breezed a furlong in 10 1/5 and looked like a jackrabbit doing it.  His 91 Beyer speed figure tells us he can leap into stakes competition immediately.



Trainer Keith Desormeaux had a decision to make when rains forced the transfer of the sixth race, the Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-olds fillies, from turf to a wet/sloppy main track.  After a pair of dirt track sprints to begin her career, Apache Princess had improved dramatically when given a chance to perform on turf as her pedigree suggested she would, missing by a neck in a two-turn turf maiden event before reeling off a pair of visually pleasing wins down the hill.  Though today’s race offered valuable black type, many (most?) trainers would have kept the daughter of Unusual Heat in the barn rather than subject her to a surface that she had every right not to handle.  Desormeaux didn’t blink.  Despite taking plenty of slop in her face and having the trainer’s brother Kent drop his whip in the upper stretch, Apache Princess drew off with complete authority to register and more than three length score.  Interestingly, she was winless in three races when matched with state-bred rivals but is unbeaten in three starts when facing open company. Desormeaux now knows he has many options, but a return to California-bred stakes competition on any surface or distance should offer easy pickings.

After defeating maidens at first asking last November at Del Mar like a colt with Derby potential, the Bob Baffert-trained Coliseum has gone the other way and shouldn’t be on anybody’s list after finishing sixth of seven in the eight-furlong Sham Stakes-G3 last month at 60 cents on the dollar and then winding up a well-beaten third, again at 3/5, in today’s eighth race, the San Vicente Stakes-G2.  The son of Tapit as yet to master the required skill of breaking with his company, and after leaving slowly yet again and then rushing up to press the pace, he gave way readily when the pressure was turned on entering the lane.  The winner turned out to be a Candy Ride gelding that wasn’t among the original Triple Crown nominees, Sparky Ville, who wore down the unlucky (and no doubt best) Dessman to win by a nose in a race that earned a legitimate 94 Beyer speed figure.  Dessman, the lesser-regarded of the two Baffert colts in the field despite having won his debut by more than seven lengths, was laying comfortably in the garden spot tracking the pace as the field entered the turn, but then was asked for run into the teeth of the hottest part of the race, put away the two front-runners entering the lane, pulled himself up when clearly in front inside the furlong pole, got nailed, but then galloped out far in front of the pack after the wire.



River Boyne carried a perfect record of six wins in six starts when competing over the Santa Anita turf course into today’s seventh race, the Thunder Road Stakes, so as expected he left as the 3/5 favorite in the one-mile turf event.  But on pure numbers he didn’t have much of advantage over his rivals, and in fact was facing older foes for the first time, so we thought he might be vulnerable, and indeed he was.  The Jeff Mullins-trained colt appeared to be going well enough entering the lane but then ran into a roadblock when attempting to rally inside the furlong pole and was forced to steady sharply, losing his momentum and eventually checking in fourth, beaten a length and one-quarter.  Would he have won had he gotten through?  Probably, though it would have been close.  The winner turned out to be True Valour (11-1), a Group-3 winner in Ireland last year and a recent third place finisher in an overnight allowance race that signaled a possible return to top form in what was just his third U.S. start.  However, jis lower-than-par assigned Beyer number was a disappointing 95, so you should be wary of runners exiting this race, especially if they are raised to higher graded level.

Earlier in the program in the fifth race, True Valour’s trainer Simon Callaghan won the first of his two stakes races when the odds-on Bellafina captured the on-mile main track Las Virgenes Stakes-G2 over a mile on the main track.   After taking considerable heat from pace-presser Mother Mother in the first six furlongs of the race, Bellafina found reserve energy that only the good ones have to fight off perfect tripper Enaya Alrabb in deep stretch to hold sway by three-quarters of a length.  There’s no doubt that the daughter of Quality Road has immense ability and class, but there is considerable concern that continued success as the distances increase will be difficult, her victory in the mile and one-sixteenth Chandelier Stakes-G1 last fall notwithstanding.  Her connections probably are still thinking Kentucky Oaks-G1; she would seem much better suited for the spring/summer program for 3-year-old fillies.



Top trainer John Sadler isn’t necessarily known for his expertise with European imports but he’s more than capable when a good one shows up on his doorstep.  Ficanas, who had one start at Doncaster during her juvenile season (she finished a promising second and was subsequently acquired by Sadler’s main client Hronis Racing) looked like a star in the making in today’s fourth race, a maiden downhill turf sprint for older fillies and mares.  Unplaced for Sadler two-turning in her U.S. debut last May and then turned out, she returned much better than she left while performing like a filly who can quickly move up the ladder.  While she certainly wasn’t beating much, the daughter of Sepoy won by nearly three lengths despite being geared down, and her Beyer number of 76 hardly does her justice.

Ax Man most likely won’t ever be as good as we thought he might be, but it was nice to see the 4-year-old son of Misremembered return to winning form in the featured seventh race, a rarely-written three-other-than seven-furlong allowance race.  Taking all of the heat while setting the pace inside, the Bob Baffert-trained gelding shrugged off his rivals to hold sway over Edwards Going Left while earning a 97 Beyer speed figure, the same number he was assigned when breaking his maiden at first asking 13 months previous.  Ax Man has won twice over a distance of ground – his Sir Barton Stakes victory by more than eight lengths over a sloppy track on the Preakness Day undercard was especially impressive – so Baffert has the option of stretching him out again. Ax Man is a superior off-track runner, but the rainy season won’t last forever in Southern California (duh!) and Ax Man has a history of not shipping well; otherwise, an Oaklawn Park invasion would make a lot of sense.   It’ll be interesting to see what the barn decides to do.



The fourth-place finish by Avalanche on opening day in a first-level allowance race over nine furlongs on grass was his best race ever – the 5-year-old son of Mizzen Mast had rallied into the teeth of slow splits to finish fourth, beaten just a half-length – but could you back him with confidence in a today’s fifth under identical conditions when facing the basically the same group?  The John Sadler-trained horse was just 1-for-14 in his career, and zero-for-10 lifetime over the Santa Anita turf course while developing a reputation of always being too late and a dollar short.  But today, after trailing the field of nine approaching the quarter pole, he accelerated impressively when room developed to wear down The Hunted (who is better at a flat mile than nine furlongs) to be up in time by half-length while negotiating the final furlong in 11 and small change.  With continued improvement as a relatively fresh 5-year-old, he might be able to win a decent race somewhere down the road.



Kirk Herbstreit’s Soul Streit hadn’t been seen in the p.m. since finishing fifth in the 2017 Del Mar Futurity-G1 17 months ago in a race that had followed his highly-impressive maiden debut victory the previous month.  Usually these types of long layoffs preclude an expectation that a promising young horse will return anywhere near as well as he left, and in today’s seventh race, a highly-contentious first-level allowance sprint, the son of Maclean’s Music was facing an extremely formidable task.  That Soul Streit was able to perform as well as he did – he was beaten just over two lengths by the rapidly improving I Am the Danger while finishing more than five clear of the rest – indicates that the Bob Baffert-trained rig should have a highly productive 2019 and may yet fulfill the promise displayed during his brief juvenile campaign.  His pedigree is sprint on sprint, so we have no expectations that he’ll ever be effective over a distance of ground, but Soul Streit has a chance to develop into a very good one-corner runner.  Let’s hope he can stay sound this time around.



Omaha Beach had burned money in each of his first four career starts, failing as the favorite in each outing, so it was not easy to trust him at 70 cents on the dollar when the son of War Front made his fifth attempt to beat maidens in today’s fifth race.  The Richard Mandella-trained colt had finished second in each of three previous starts while losing by a combined three-quarters of a length, while displaying a disturbing habit of getting beat when a more genuine colt would have found a way to seal the deal.  Turns out, though, that Omaha Beach, wasn’t really displaying a lack of fortitude but simply failing to stay a distance of ground.  Today, finally, after three middle distance grass races and another over a mile on the main track, the 3-year-old colt for the first time in his career was allowed to perform at a distance that best suits his style, namely, an extended sprint.  The result was a pulverizing maiden breaking score by nine lengths in a race that was a assigned a superb 90 Beyer speed figure, 10 points better than his previous career top.  Now the question is, will the colt’s connections do the right thing and reserve this potentially top class 3-year-old for one-turn races?  Or, will they’ll chase the Derby dream by asking Omaha Beach to compete at distances beyond his range?  Stay tuned.

Unlike Omaha Beach, the other high potential 3-year-old to perform today – Mucho Gusto – appears to have no distance limitations, based not only on pedigree but on pure performance.  Though previously not considered to be in quite the same stratosphere as Baffert’s two division leaders Game Winner and Improbable, Mucho Gusto appears to be equally talented if not more so than anything in the East right now based on his thoroughly authoritative victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes-G3 over eight and-one half furlongs.  Relaxing beautifully behind what we’d term an average pace over the sealed/sloppy track, the son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man took complete control when ready turning for home and was mostly on his own courage through the lane before completing a nearly five-length romp over the recent Sham Stakes-G3 winner Gunmetal Gray while giving every indication that added distance won’t be an issue.  Yes, it’s always difficult to take a result at face value when it’s accomplished over a wet track, but this colt had done some excellent work on fast ground in three prior starts.  Now, he’s a candidate to hit the road, especially where there’s a reasonable expectation of an off track.  Hello, Oaklawn Park?

Following his superb victory in the opening day Malibu Stakes-G1, we opined that McKinzie, while certainly capable of winning major races up to a mile and one-eighth, probably would be most effective (and perhaps unbeatable) in races around one turn up to a mile, so it wasn’t a complete surprise that the son of Street Sense went down by a half-length to Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway in today’s eighth race, the nine-furlong San Pasqual Stakes-G2.  This was supposed to a prep – or at least a steppingstone – to the Dubai World Cup at the end of March, but trainer Bob Baffert must concede the possibility that opting for the 1m Golden Shaheen – the same race Mind Your Biscuits won last year – would be in the colt’s best interests.  As for the 2017 BC Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway – remember, he finished third in the Kentucky Derby-G1 as a 3-year-old – it would seem that the mile and one-quarter distance of both the Santa Anita Handicap-G1 and the Dubai World Cup-G1 should now be well within his range.   Food for thought for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.



Solomini was one of America’s premiere Kentucky Derby prospects last year following a superb juvenile campaign that included second place finishes in the FrontRunner Stakes (to Bolt d’Oro), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (to Good Magic), and the Los Alamitos Futurity – all Grade One races.  In fact, in the Los Alamitos Futurity, the son of Curlin actually hit the wire first from McKenzie, only to be disqualified on a controversial stewards’ decision.  Over the winter he didn’t grow an inch, and then, while preparing for a Triple Crown bid during the winter, Solomini showed no progress when managing only minor awards behind Magnum Moon in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby.  His once promising continued to stall.  He never threatened when splitting the field in the Kentucky Derby, was a dull third when 30 cents on the dollar in the Affirmed Stakes-G3, was turned out, and then returned no better than he left when ninth of 14 in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.  Finally, In what was supposed to serve as a confidence building victory in the today’s eighth race, his first-ever appearance in an entry-level allowance event, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was knocked down to 30 cents on the dollar, but despite an absolutely perfect trip, hung under pressure in the final furlong and wound up third behind a former maiden-30,000 claimer Mongolian Groom and Beaumarchais, an ex-$12,500 plater.  At one time, this was a very good colt.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the connections are contemplating pulling the plug.



There are many changes a trainer can make to favorably alter the direction of a horse’s racing career.  Trainer Tim Yakteen decided to experiment with Big Buzz in today’s third race, a maiden special weight downhill turf sprint that was transferred to the main track due to overnight rains.  More accurately, Yakteen threw the kitchen sink at the 4-year-old son of Mr. Big, who at time of entry was a nine-race maiden with speed figures that was hovering in the mid-70s.  Here’s what the trainer did: (1) gelded him; (2) added blinkers for the first time; (3) switched to Joel Rosario for the first time; (4) returned him to sprinting; and (5) though not by design, ran him on a wet track for the first time.  The result was a last-to-first geared-down cakewalk by more than five lengths that earned a vastly improved Beyer figure of 83.  It proves the old axiom, if first you don’t success, try, try again – but change everything.



We expected Conquest Tsunami to win today’s eighth race feature – the Clocker’s Corner Stakes – and most of the punters did, too, as they knocked down the veteran gelding to 7/5 in the listed affair down the Hillside course.  The Canadian-bred 7-year-old was clearly the controlling speed, he quickly made the running while appearing to go to much easier than the 21.06 and 42.65 splits would lead you to believe.  The son of Stormy Atlantic then came home unchallenged through the lane to record a blistering 1:11.02 final clocking while registering the 4 ¼ length victory.  It would seem that a performance such as this would set up the Peter Miller-trained sprint nicely for another crack at the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint, a six-furlong straightaway turf sprint in Dubai.  Last year he finished a close third behind Jungle Cat and stable mate Stormy Liberal and seems at least as good now as he was then.  The disappointment in the Clocker’s Corner was Hunt, who had now turned in three substandard races dating back to last July.  Always one of our favorites, the Phil D’Amato-trained gelding never showed a thing when checking in seventh and clearly isn’t the same horse – not likely will ever be – as the one who captured the Shoemaker Mile-G1 last May.



Her victory in today’s Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint notwithstanding, S Y Sky clearly isn’t the same dominating California-bred mare that she’s been in the past, but in her current form at age five she would seem most effective on grass and we suspect trainer Phil D’Amato will do his best to keep her in state-bred races on the lawn.  The daughter of Grazen got away with a soft opening 22 seconds quarter and then dug down deep when challenged by Queen Bee to You to secure the victory by a half-length, improving her career record to a highly-admirable five wins from nine starts (and two-for-two on turf).  She had to be turned out for more than a year between her three and four-year-old campaigns, so full credit must go to the trainer for keeping her so productive and consistent throughout her abbreviated career.  Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising if her connections choose to have her go out on a winning note and send her home.  She should make a heck of a broodmare.



Perhaps he was riding to trainer Neil Drysdale’s instructions or maybe he simply decided to do this on his own, but Joe Talamo failed to employ the type of strategy that gave Love and Peace her best chance to win today’s opener, an open allowance turf miler restricted to 4-year-old fillies.  Breaking from the rail, the French-bred filly was not allowed to utilize her good inside post (with the rail set at 30 feet, no less) to any advantage and pretty much lost her best chance in the first 50 yards. Instead of nudging her leaving the gate to secure what should have been a perfect ground-saving, stalking position with cover, Talamo took great pains to wrangle her back to last in the six-runner field in a race that was certain to be slowly run early (see 23.55 second opening quarter).  Not only did this guarantee that Love and Peace would take the worst of the race-flow, but it also insured the likelihood that Talamo would be forced to lose considerable ground when trying to rally into the teeth of the race-shape from the three-eighths pole to the wire.  As it turned out, Love and Pace, who doesn’t really possess a massive turn of foot in the first place, could only manage to finish second, beaten just over a length behind Streak of Luck, while coming home in 23 and small change, and that’s without even factoring in the ground loss.  Hopefully next time she’s allowed to participate in the fray from the start and then have far less work to do when the pressure gets turned on in the final quarter mile.



 Gold Arrow had been working quite well according to her registered final times at Los Alamitos and then in her most two recent drills at Santa Anita leading up to her racing debut in today’s second race for older fillies and mares at six furlongs.  So, it wasn’t surprising that the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained 4-year-old received strong support at the windows, so much so that she eventually left as the favorite at 7/5.  But, after breaking slowly and losing valuable early position, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro simply gave herself too much to do, and despite a strong late rally she had to settle for second behind the much more experienced Lady Mamba, who was allowed to coast through soft fractions while cruising gate-to-wire.  Despite her defeat, Gold Arrow will be just fine with distance and experience.  She won’t be any kind of price in her next appearance, that’s for sure, but Gold Arrow is very likely to graduate and then go on to better things.

Here’s another first-time starter that didn’t run to her backing but shouldn’t be given up on.  Tiz Felicity made her debut in today 10th race, a maiden turf miler for 3-year-old fillies, and she was bet down from her morning line of 6-1 to go favored at 2-1.  However, the daughter of Scat Daddy never landed a blow, winding up a non-threatening third following a wide trip to be beaten more than six lengths.  But she’s better than this.  Victimized somewhat by a lack of pace and never asked for much when being allowed to finish on her courage by jockey Mike Smith, the Mike McCarthy-trained filly seems certain to step forward with this educational run behind her.  We suspect she’ll also enjoy added distance.  Give another chance next time.



Prior to her debut in today’s fourth race, the whispers surrounding Flor de La Mar brought back memories of the chatter attached to Justify when the eventual unbeaten Triple Crown winner debuted almost a year ago.  Trainer Bob Baffert had made no effort to hide either one in morning workouts that were readily available for viewing on, so Flor de La Mar, similar to Justify, was bet like she couldn’t lose when facing five other maiden sophomore fillies over six and one-half furlongs.  Leaving at 20 cents on the dollar, the daughter of Tiznow pressed the pace 3-wide in hand, took control in the upper stretch when ready and drew clear to produce a five-length score over stable mate Blue Moonrise while earning a decent but certainly not scintillating 79 Beyer number.  Truthfully, the performance didn’t register particularly high on the goose bump scale, but she was asked to do only what was required she seems certain to be even more dominant as the distances increase.  Justify was an absolute slam dunk superstar from day one; Flor de La Mar isn’t anywhere close to being there yet.  But she’ll have her chance.

First-time starter Friday’s At Shady looked like he was going to be distanced during the early stages of the seventh race, a maiden $20,000 claiming sprint for 3-year-olds.  The Jeff Bonde-trained colt had received no action (20-1), so not much was expected, and after breaking slowly and appearing not to know what was going on, he fell back to be what looked like 20 lengths behind the leaders in the opening quarter.  But then the light switch went on, and the son of Twice the Appeal suddenly accelerated on the mid-point of the far turn.  Circling the pack and gobbling up the ground with every stride inside the furlong pole, he managed to wind up second, beaten less than a length, while four lengths clear of the others.  Visually, it was a pleasing performance and the winner’s Beyer figure (60) wasn’t too bad.   So, how much improvement is this Cal-bred capable of showing next time, and will Bonde protect him a bit by raising him a notch or two?  It would seem like a hike to the maiden $30,000 level at, say, seven furlongs, would be the ideal spot.



Dessman had been outworked by hotshot stable mate Flor de La Mar on a couple of occasions leading up to his debut in today’s seventh race, but that didn’t stop the punters from sending it in on the first-time starter, who closed at 4/5.  Settling just off the leaders to the turn, the son of Union Rags responded readily when given his cue and eventually drew off to win by more than seven lengths while earning a respectable 80 Beyer speed figure.  Purchased for $750,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton March Sale, the Bob Baffert-trained colt accomplished the task stylishly and, as a son of a Belmont Stakes winner, surely should get at least a middle distance.  We got the impression that Dessman had been considered to be in the second tier of the stable’s Derby prospects, and maybe he still is, but it will be interesting to see what this colt can do against tougher competition over a distance of ground.  He might do a bit better than you think.



Cajun Treasure had made our “Primed and Ready” list last month after turning in a series of impressive training track workouts while signaling his readiness for a top effort following a layoff of six months.  Though he had never sprinted in his 3-race career, we expected the son of Treasure Beach to return in a Hillside turf dash, for he had given every indication in his prior outings that he had a bit of a move but simply didn’t stay.  But trainer Peter Eurton opted for today’s fourth race, a mile event that was subsequently taken off the turf, and, not unexpectedly, we got the same Cajun Treasure that we saw last summer, a colt that simply can’t punch it in under pressure.  After appearing to be a sure winner inside the furlong pole, he shortened his stride and wound up third, beaten almost two lengths by favored Sellwood.  We’ll back him again next time, but only if he sprints, and preferably, on grass.



It’s never easy for a first-time starter to win around two turns, especially when it’s a filly being tackling colts.  Bold Mongolian faced such a task in today’s sixth race, a maiden $30,000 claimer over a mile on the main track, yet she came within a whisker of pulling it off after losing a head-bob to the fifth-time starter, Forestation.  Bold Mongolian, who was nine lengths clear of the others, certainly deserved a better fate.  Receiving some early action on the tote but drifting up to 18-1 at post time, the daughter of Revolutionary found herself in a virtual match race every step of the way while racing along the rail.  Though beaten close home her resolve was admirable, and she earned a Beyer number of 65, which would have won at least nine out of 10 such races restricted to fillies.  So, one must ask, why did trainer Enebish Ganbat choose to face the boys?  There was an identical race for fillies seven days previous that drew only seven entrants.   Now, there are no two-turn maiden $30,000 races for 3-year-olds fillies in the next book, though there is one for maiden $40,000, but not until February 1.  We suspect that’s the one her connections will choose.

Lieutenant Dan lacked early speed but finished with interest to be a respectable third in his racing debut at Los Alamitos in December, so improvement was expected in today’s ninth race for state-bred maiden 3-year-olds, especially since trainer Steve Miyadi has excellent stats with second-timers.  The son of Grazen was always within range outside to the head of the lane and then kicked away with power (though failing to change leads) while registering an eight-length romp and earning a stakes-quality 83 Beyer number.  Winning owner Nicholas Alexander had to be just has pleased with the performance of his other starter, the third-place finisher, Satchel Paige.  Another son of Grazen, Satchel Paige broke poorly and fell behind by as many as 17 lengths down the backstretch according to the official chart.  But the light switch suddenly went on as the field approached the head of the lane and the Phil d’Amato-trained colt finished fastest but much to late to wind up a distant but willing third.  Most of his sire’s offspring can get a mile but this colt – out of a mare by Old Topper – might have his best future as a late-running sprinter.  He should be tough vs. similar next time but will need to learn to leave with his field.



To steal a line from Blazing Saddles, Marine Layer has killed more people – or horseplayers – than Cecil B. DeMille.  In her debut at Delaware Park last June, she left at 50 cents on the dollar, but despite having every chance wound up second.  In her next start, the punters, undeterred, dove right back in, sending her off at 1/5.  Same runner-up result, though she may have had a bit of an excuse after stumbling at the start.  Put away and then brought back this winter by trainer Tom Proctor, the daughter of Into Mischief once again trained like a good thing and was bet accordingly (down to 6/5) in a maiden race originally slated for the Hillside Course but transferred to the wet fast (sealed) main track.  This time she was completely non-competitive, winding up last of five, beaten more than 21 lengths.  We supposed Proctor will opt for a similar spot on grass next time (there’s one in the book, Feb. 3), but we’ll let her beat us.  Meanwhile, the race second choice Nomizar, a filly who had never received an ounce of wagering support in three prior starts (she’d been 12-1, 19-1, and most recently 68-1) established the pace and never looked back, holding sway over the first-timer Full Eclipse (27-1), who finished willingly while 11 lengths clear of the rest.  The assigned Beyer speed figure of 70 was a career top for Nomizar but she’ll need better to be effective on the raise.



What in the world happened to Qahira in today’s third race?  So impressive in her racing debut in late November – she graduated by almost five lengths with an 87 Beyer speed figure in a race that already had proven productive (the runner-up came back to jog), the daughter of the hot young sire Cairo Prince was knocked down to 30 cents on the dollar in a race that seemed a mere formality.  Perhaps resenting the stout rating tactics employed by jockey Drayden Van Dyke, Qahira stalked or pressed the pace to the head of the lane and then was spent, fading readily to wind up last of five beaten more than six lengths behind the progressive but not particular fast Calf Moon Bay.  Maybe Qahira is simply a sprinter, or maybe she came out of the race worse than she went into it.  Or, maybe short-priced runners from the Bob Baffert should be avoided for the time being.  Through the first two weeks of the season the Baffert barn is 2-for-25, with 16 off-the-board finishes.  Haters, enjoy it while you can.



Those of you who backed Speakers in today’s lid-lifter – a mile turf affair for restricted (nw-3) $35,000 claiming fillies and mares – may have been inclined to simply go home after experiencing the nightmarish trip the daughter of Unusual Heat suffered through when extremely well-meant at 5-1.  It appeared jockey Flavien Prat had secured an ideal spot midway – he had cover behind the leaders and his mare was into the bridle – so her backers had to believe eventually she would extract herself from the box and roll home once clear.  But it never happened.  While the eventual winner Halo Darlin was cruising on the front end without being subjected to any pressure, Speakers remained buried in traffic, unable to produce any momentum.  She never spent a nickel – Michael Wrona once described a similar trip that way – and the result was a thoroughly unsatisfying third place finish, beaten three lengths.  It was the first time Prat had ever ridden her, and we suspect he’ll request a do-over from trainer Andrew Lerner when they write the race back in a few weeks.  We’re thinking the result might be a bit different next time.



The late-developing Bashful made it two-for-two in her burgeoning career by rallying from stone last to win by an expanding 3 ½ lengths in the sixth race, a first-level allowance extended sprint for fillies and mares.  It had taken her until November of her 3-year-old season to make it to the post, but after a smart debut win over five furlongs on grass at Del Mar she didn’t miss a beat in training and came right back for the repeat score despite moving up in class and switching to the main track.  Actually, her pedigree is much more dirt than turf, which is why trainer Richard Mandella had no qualms about switching surfaces.  Today’s win, accomplished with a Beyer of 79, represented a three-point decline off her maiden victory, but no matter what metric you use, there is no way she didn’t run at least as good if not better today.  As a daughter of Orb from a mare by Deputy Minister, she’s bred to be even better routing than sprinting and we suspect Mandella will cross that bridge next time.

We weren’t alone when we expected Bellafina to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs; instead, she left at 9/5 and wound up fourth, beaten almost 10 lengths.   For whatever reason, she simply didn’t show up.  But she wasn’t the only California shipper to disappoint – Marley’s Freedom, Catalina Cruiser, Abel Tasman and McKinzie, all ran arguably worse than she did – so it was nice to see the real Bellafina return in today’s eighth race, the Santa Ynez Stakes-G2 over seven furlongs.  Dueling the very talented Mother Mother into submission after the opening half, the daughter of Quality Road drew off rapidly to win by an eased-up eight and one-half lengths while earning a career top Beyer figure of 95.  She even changed leads right on cue, something she’s not always done.  The Kentucky Oaks is the ultimate goal but before then she’ll have at least another race or two in California, where she may hook up with American Pharoah’s Grade-1 winning half-sister, Chasing Yesterday.  That will be interesting.



Stubbins had shown ability last summer on two occasions despite never appearing to be comfortable over the very deep Del Mar main track, so we were expecting the son of Morning Line to perform even better on turf in his first start in four months in today’s fifth race, a downhill dash for maiden 3-year-olds.  Despite the rail, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt had enough early speed to gain a favorable ground-saving trip to the head of the lane, and then displayed courage to slip through a tight opening along the fence in the final furlong to edge pacesetter My Mandate by a desperate nose.  On pedigree the winner should get at least a mile, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the colt’s connections seek a nw-2 affair on turf for this colt’s next appearance.  Debuting Mountain Spirit caught the eye when finishing willingly to be third after looming a bold threat wide crossing the dirt.  He’s by Point of Entry and therefore bred to improve going long; the Mullins-trained colt should get nothing but better with experience and distance.

Jockey Flavien Prat was offered the mount on both Gray Magician and Gunmetal Gray in the featured Sham Stakes-G3 over a mile on the main track for 3-year-olds.  It was his choice; he had ridden the former to a nine-length maiden win at Del Mar and had been aboard the latter when he finished a respectable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1.  Prat opted for Gray Magician – we would have done the same – but once again proving that jockeys aren’t the best handicappers it was Gunmetal Gray who managed to rally from last of seven to record a one-length victory over recent Gold Rush Stakes Sueno.  The Beyer number of 82 wasn’t anything to brag about – in this same race last year McKinzie’s figure was 98 – but at least the son of Exchange Rate was moving forward, not backward, in the final furlong.  As for the race favorite, the talented by inexperienced Coliseum, his chances were dashed after the son of Tapit missed the break, lost position, and then failed to cooperate when asked to rate and settle behind the leaders around the clubhouse turn and into the backstretch.  He still has a lot to learn.



One of the most difficult ways to win over the Santa Anita turf course – or on any turf course for that matter – is to be wide without cover every step of the way.  As the field turned into the backstretch in today’s fourth race, Drift Away appeared condemned to that type of trip.  The Andrew Lerner-trained filly found herself in a stalking position 1-off the rail behind the pacesetting Untouched Reality, who didn’t figure to back up, and thus we suspected that Drift Away would do just that – drift away – when coming under pressure from the quarter pole home.  But to her credit, the daughter of Congrats clung to her rival until close home whereupon she managed to exert her superiority, winning by a neck while showing the resolve that now has carried her to four wins in just 12 career starts.  The assigned Beyer number of 80 was a career top for the winner, but given the circumstance that it was earned, we’ll rate it at least a few points higher.  Even after her victory in this starter’s allowance affair she remains eligible to the first condition and based on this performance she should be very competitive against that group next time.

Maiden races for 3-year-olds at this time of the year can be weak, average, strong, or downright salty.  Today’s sixth race clearly falls into the latter category after Nolo Contesto and Omaha Beach went toe-to-from the quarter pole home and wound up a half-length apart at the wire while leaving the rest of the field eight lengths behind.  Nolo Contesto had a rough run in his sprint debut (the rider lost his stirrups early in the race) but showed enough when rallying to be fifth, beaten just over five lengths, to verify trainer John Sadler’s belief that he was the best young prospect in his barn.  Stretching out to a mile off that one sprint and facing Omaha the more experienced and equally highly-regarded Omaha Beach from the Richard Mandella barn, Nole Contesto had to be everything his trainer hoped he would be to win.  Despite losing ground throughout, the son of Pioneerof the Nile was relentless in his pursuit of Omaha Bunch and appearing a bit green inside the furlong pole, he managed to overpower his rival in deep stretch to earn his diploma.  The Beyer number of 80 represented a 14-point improvement off his debut and was only two points lower than what Gunmetal Grey achieved in winning the Sham Stakes two days later.

We’ve written several times about one of our favorite angles – the route-to-sprint maneuver when it applies to the Santa Anita Hillside course – so we believed Tonahutu was the logical top selection in today’s seventh race, a second-level allowance affair for fillies and mares.  The Dan Blacker-trained mare had run five previous times since being imported from England and four of those races had come around two turns.  But she finished an eye-catching second in her only sprint – a five-furlong dash at Del Mar – so when she showed up in the entries in this downhill affair she seemed like a logical winner and was bet accordingly.  Tonahuto certainly ran her race, but A Little Bit Me, also shortening up from a mile, ran even better and was never really threatened in route to a 2 ½ length victory.  It was probably not a coincidence that this visually impressive performance came in her first start since being claimed by high-percentage trainer Richard Baltas.



First-time gelding Coil to Strike, off the track since a poor debut run last February, could easily have returned in a modest maiden claimer without causing suspicion but instead trainer Billy Morey protected him in a straight maiden Cal-bred sprint in today’s fourth race, a sure sign that the barn still liked him.  A bullet five-furlong gate work six days earlier gave a hint of ability, and the 4-year-old son of Coil ran quite well when third, beaten just over two lengths by the much more experienced Red Envelope.  Coil to Strike had the misfortune of drawing the rail – a death trap so far this season – and after breaking slowly and then rushing up to establish the pace, he kept on nicely through the lane, instead of packing it in, which he easily could have done.  With this race under his belt and facing similar foes (minus the winner) next time, he should be hard to beat.

There are few angles more powerful than the route-to-sprint pattern when handicapping Hillside turf sprints.  Players should always promote runners that are turning back in trip in these slalom events, especially when the horse in question already had proven his ability to handle the downhill assignment.  Caribou Club fit the description perfectly and received strong play (3-1) in the eighth race, the Joe Hernandez Stakes-G3, despite having to face a three-pronged attack from the Peter Miller barn that included two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal.  In his most recent start, Caribou Club was a clever winner of the 8.5-furlong Seabiscuit Handicap, but this return to sprinting was no issue, as half of the gelding’s 16 career starts now have come in sprints, four of which he’s won while never off the board in the other four.  Benefitting from a blazing pace that complimented his late-charging style, Caribou Club was up in time to win clear while Stormy Liberal, despite having every chance, had to settle for second, beaten just over a length.  It would be nice if they meet again down road, perhaps in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai over six furlongs in late March, but the current plan for Caribou Club has him staying home and pointing for the one mile Frank Kilroe Stakes-Gr. 1 at Santa Anita March 9.

Yet another example of the strength of the route-to-sprint angle was highlighted in the 10th race, a downhill dash for entry-level allowance state-bred 3-year-olds.  Irish Heatwave broke his maiden over a mile at Del Mar in early November but was a late scratch from the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes later that month.  Making his first start in two months and returning to a sprint, the son of Unusual Heat was attractive at 7-1 and rallied to nose out stakes-winner Listing, with recent maiden winner Teacher’s Treasure a close third.  The first three are good colts so we suspect this will prove to be a productive race



 He Will has not won since November of 2017, and he’s never been the easiest of rides, so it is entirely possible that the veteran of 25 races has lost a step or two.  Still, the son of Cyclotron seemed primed for a big effort when returning to state-bred company in today’s third race, a stakes-quality allowance turf miler that appeared on paper to be well within his capabilities.  But as the race soon developed, it was clear that the 2-1 favorite would never have a chance.  Despite having the advantage of the inside draw that practically guaranteed an ideal, ground-saving trip, He Will was wrangled back after the break to lose his early position and then to compound matters was guided directly to no man’s lands – four-to-five wide entering the clubhouse turn without cover – while forfeiting the paint-scraping trip that was his for the asking.  Entering the backstretch, He Will was for some reason permitted to lose contact with his six rivals, falling behind by nine lengths despite a modest early pace.  Finally, recognizing the cause was lost, the rider simply went through the motions from the top of the stretch to wire while allowing He Will to finish on his own courage.  Somewhat remarkably, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained horse still managed to wind up fourth, beaten only three lengths.  Some observers might simply chalk it up as nothing more than a poor ride; I’d categorize the jockey’s performance as a blatant non-effort.

Kudos to Vladimir Cerin for an excellent training job in having Count Alexander ready to win off a 13-month layoff in a highly-competitive first-level allowance turf sprint in today’s fifth race. The son of Scat Daddy was forced miss his entire 3-year season after a promising stakes-placed juvenile campaign but had a history of firing fresh (he won his debut), so at 6-1 on the tote he certainly could have been played. Older horses get saltier every rung up the class ladder – had his 85 Beyer speed figure will have to be improved upon – but with just six career starts Count Alexander has a much higher ceiling.  If you’ve never seen it or simply forgotten, check out his nightmarish trip in the 2017 Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar.  Unlucky doesn’t even begin to describe it.



We’ve always believed that a horse’s most telling race is his second career start, and the second most is the one that comes directly following a maiden win.  Early on, things didn’t appear terribly bright for Giza Goddess – she didn’t show anything in her first, second, or even third start – so the prospects for justifying her $200,000 yearling purchase price seemed remote.  But then she found grass.  After finishing a solid third at 26-1 in a maiden miler over the Del Mar lawn in mid-November, the John Shirreffs-trained filly improved significantly again in her next start three weeks later over those same conditions when graduating by more than five lengths with career top (and very strong) 81 Beyer figure.  Today’s Blue Norther – her first start since that maiden win – would tell us if she was going to be one-and-done, or a filly that had the potential to be somebody.  Well, Giza Goddess is indeed somebody.  After pressing a hot pace outside throughout and then finding more under pressure in the final furlong, she captured the Blue Norther with another career best 82 Beyer.  She’s from the first crop of Pioneerof the Nile’s first major horse at stud Cairo Prince.  This bodes well for American Pharoah’s first runners, who make the races this year.

Speaking of Pioneerof the Nile, he was represented by a very nice debut maiden winner later in the sixth race when Anuket scored convincingly over six-furlongs by more than four lengths in while giving every indication that she’ll be even better as the distances increase.  Another in an endless string of recent first-out maiden winners from the Bob Baffert barn, she seems certain to be of stakes quality after earning a very respectable 81 Beyer speed figure.  A Juddmonte Farm $575,000 Saratoga yearly purchase, Anuket was a produced by the Tapit mare Rashnaa, who was stakes-placed in Canada but actually ran for a tag early in her career.  It’s really a modest pedigree, so we can conclude that at that price Anuket was acquired much more for her looks than for her page.

Apache Princess, yet another route-to-sprint Hillside winner, was impressive in graduating in the today’s finale for the Desormeaux brothers, drawing clear with power in the final furlong following a perfect trip/ride from mid-pack.  She was beaten a neck in a maiden turf miler at Del Mar in November, so two-turns are within her scope, but with a such a heavy sprint influence on the bottom side of her pedigree (she’s out of an Indian Charlie mare) she might be best suited as a grass sprinter.  Runner-up Unicorn certainly caught the eye and will be on everybody’s horses-to-watch list.  The Richard Baltas stable has a low percentage with first-timers (according to the DRF, he was four percent from a sample of 72 going into the race) so we’re expecting Unicorn to produce a significant forward move.  The daughter of Bodemeister galloped out like a filly who’ll definitely enjoy added ground.



The last three times the devoted front-runner Fahan Mura was permitted to get away with a 47-seconds opening half or slower she proved impossible to catch.  Yes, she can win even if pressured into a faster pace, but when the timer read :47.43 after the opening half of today’s fourth race, Robert J. Frankel Stakes-G3, the race essentially was over.  Relaxing nicely in the nine-furlong affair in which nobody came within two lengths of her until the shadow of the wire, the daughter of English Channel held sway by three-quarters of a length over the race-shape-victimized Excellent Sunset to improve her record to six wins in seven career starts over the Santa Anita turf course.  Her “lone on the lead” trip could easily have been predicted, which made her closing price of 8/5 seem like an overlay.  As for Excellent Sunset, she deserves better luck.  The Irish-bred filly had her number taken down when winning the Kathryn Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in November (she had to come down but was best), and with any kind of help up front today could have gotten up.  Her day will come.

We really liked Californiagoldrush in the American Oaks, poor draw and all, so it was equally surprising and disappointing that the Neil Drysdale-trained filly failed to fire an ounce when seventh of eight as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade-1, mile and one-quarter turf affair won smartly by the Chad Brown-trained Eastern shipper Competitionofideas.  We now know that Californiagoldrush exited the race with what her trainer succinctly described a “knee injury,” and with the breeding season just around the corner and since the daughter of Cape Blanco is a Grade 2 winner and Grade 1 placed, there may not be any urgency to bring her back.  As for Competitionofideas, she was a bit late to the party, having taken four races to break her maiden, but this convincing win was no fluke.  If the daughter of Speighstown probably was on Brown’s practice squad among his older filly and mare turf runners coming in, she’s definitely on the main roster now.



Magnificent McCool already had run five times entering the Friday opener, a nine-furlong grass affair for maiden juveniles, and his only prior outing on turf (a modest fourth vs. maidens at Del Mar in August), didn’t provide any evidence that he would be any better on grass than he was on the main track.  A highly rated runner-up effort on dirt last summer at Los Alamitos, when he finished nine lengths clear of the others, gave a hint of ability, but two subsequent outings failed to verify that promise.  Today, however, he looked like a monster, winning with a ton left by more than four lengths while displaying a turn of foot (final furlong in11.34 seconds) that only good horses have.  A son of Giant’s Causeway from the dam of the hard-knocking local veteran Secreto Primero, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt was purchased for $625,00 in Ocala in April and may yet turn out to be worth that and more if he can duplicate this type of performance when facing tougher foes down the road.

Iha Do Mel was making her racing debut in the fourth race, a downhill turf sprint for maiden two-year-old fillies.  Not much was expected from the daughter of Awesome Again – she left at 132-1 – but there was nothing wrong whatsoever with her second-place performance and gives reason to believe that the Paulo Lobo-trained homebred will be more than useful with added experience and distance.  She’s the first foal from the unraced Distorted Humor mare Sonhadora while the second dam was the high-class Delaware Handicap and Ruffian winner Swift Temper.  As for the winner, Shut It Out is a very nice prospect, too, for trainer Doug O’Neill.  The second-time starter by Violence finished with interest to be a close fourth in her debut over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar in November and built on that initial impression today.  She’s another that most certainly will run on.



 There’s always an intriguing opening day maiden two-year-old race carded at Santa Anita and it usually comes up fairly hot.  We’re not sure how strong today’s edition in the fifth race will eventually turn out – the Beyer number assigned to debut winner Big Scott Daddy was a moderate 79 – but If we had to take one out of the race, it would be third place finisher One Bad Boy.  Drawing the dreaded rail and lacking gate quickness to be in mid-pack early, he stayed on nicely through the lane and wound up beaten just 2 ¼ lengths.  By Twirling Candy from the stakes-winning dam of the locally-raced good filly Ms. Bad Behavior, the Richard Baltas-trained ridgeling had been burning up the track at San Luis Rey Downs prior to this run but clearly needed the experience, as most first-timers from this barn do.  While we always prefer the two-sprints-and-a-stretch pattern with young horses, One Bad Boy might not need another short race.   In whatever race he shows up time, he’s very likely to move forward in a significant way.

The wire came up at the right time for River Boyne in the sixth race, the Mathis Brothers Mile on turf in a race restricted to 3-year-olds.  The victory by a head over Desert Stone enhances the Jeff Mullins-trained colt’s record over the Santa Anita lawn to a remarkable six-for-six (he’s 1-for-7 everywhere else), but all of those wins were accomplished when facing his own age group.  The gravy train ends after the first of the year, when the Irish-bred son of Dandy Man must enter the real world comprised of older horses.  Based strictly on numbers – his win today earned a 95 Beyer speed figure – River Boyne will find the jump challenging, even though the local turf contingent was been shallow for, like, forever.  It will be interesting to see how he fits in open company.

After McKinzie returned to winning form by blowing away the field in the ninth race, Malibu Stakes-G1, the inevitable talk about the possibility of a start in the mile and one-eighth Pegasus World Cup in late January came quickly despite the fact that the Son of Street Sense had finished 31 lengths behind Accelerate in his previous start, the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1.  While that performance clearly was not an indication of his true ability – and, yes, he does have prior Grade-1 win over nine furlongs in the Pennsylvania Derby – the evidence is mounting that McKinzie just might be most effective around one turn.  The seven-furlong Malibu was just his second career start at a sprint distance; his previous attempt resulted in a runaway maiden win over the same trip during the fall of his juvenile career.  Perhaps he’s similar to high class runners like Honor Code and Frosted – they could win going long but were far more effective up to a mile – but in the States there aren’t many big buck opportunities for horses that can’t stay more than a middle distance.