Santa Anita 2012: Opening Day Stakes Preview

Harry How

A pair of Grade 1 races dot the opening day card at Santa Anita on December 26th, 2012.

The day after Christmas provides us with opening day of the 2012/2013 Santa Anita Winter/Spring meet, as well as a tasty card featuring three graded stakes races including two grade 1s - the LaBrea Stakes and the Malibu. Let's dig into each race.

Grade 1 LaBrea Stakes, 7f, Dirt, 3&up, fillies & mares

G1-LaBrea Stakes; Post Time: 4:38pm/1:38pm
PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Mamma Kimbo M. Smith B. Baffert 9/2
2 Nechez Dawn E. Maldanado J. Bonde 10/1
3 Reneesgotzip G. Gomez P. Miller 4/1
4 Creditcardroulette J. Rosario T. Proctor 20/1
5 My Miss Aurelia C. Nakatani S. Asmussen 4/5
6 Candrea M. Garcia B. Baffert 12/1
7 Book Review R. Bejarano B. Baffert 6/1

5-My Miss Aurelia (4/5) returns to the track since her runner-up finish to Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and is the odds-on morning line favorite. Normally, I'm a bit hesitant to back a horse coming back after a big run at the Breeders' Cup, but a seven furlong race might be the perfect spot for a comeback.

1-Mamma Kimbo (9/2), 2-Nechez Dawn (10/1) and 3-Reneesgotzip (4/1) should ensure a solid pace on the frontend which should set things up perfectly for the patient and versatile My Miss Aurelia. If she's not quite up to par, perhaps 7-Book Review (6/1) will be able to gobble up the leaders in deep stretch for the upset. This three-year-old Giant's Causeway filly is a solid 4-3-0-0 all time at the tricky seven furlong distance.

Grade 2 Sir Beaufort Stakes, 8f, Turf, 3yo

G2-Sir Beaufort Stakes; Post Time: 5:14pm/2:14pm
PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Fit to Rule E. Maldanado D. O'Neill 8/1
2 Press Baron (GB) V. Espinoza P. Gallagher 10/1
3 Smart Ellis J. Leparoux R. Mandella 6/1
4 Big Bane Theory J. Talamo C. Gaines 4/1
5 Midnight Crooner M. Garcia B. Baffert 7/2
6 Conspiracy G. Gomez B. Baffert 10/1
7 Battle Force M. Smith J. Shirreffs 3/1
8 Silento R. Bejarano G. Mandella 9/2

The Sir Beaufort field is a bit of a disappointing collection, in my honest opinion, as most of the colts possess little in the way of graded stakes experience/success. A quick scan of the entries:

1-Fit to Rule (8/1): Recent maiden winner; never raced vs. graded company. First try on grass. He's a half-brother to Blue Grass winner Sinister Minister - a horse that ran one big race in his career and was hardly heard from again.

2-Press Baron (GB) (10/1): Won a maiden event in England and a $50k claiming race at Del Mar this summer.

3-Smart Ellis (6/1): Best graded company finish was 3rd in the G2-Twilight Derby on Breeders' Cup Friday.

4-Big Bane Theory (4/1): Finished 9th in the G1-Hollywood Derby last time out in his fourth career start.

5-Midnight Crooner (7/2): Ninth in the G2-Del Mar Derby; 8th in the G1-Blue Grass. He's a half-brother to Midnight Interlude.

6-Conspiracy (10/1): Never faced graded company.

7-Battle Force (3/1): Third in the G3-Generous at Hollywood in Nov. of 2011.

8-Silentio (9/2): Never faced graded company.

That's a pretty light field for a Grade 2 race; seems like Grade 3 or listed would be a more apt designation of the quality of this field.

Battle Force is the morning line favorite based on his prior graded race and a solid second place finish against N1X company in his comeback race on Nov. 17th. That was his first effort in almost a year, so it remains to be seen if he's ready to come back and run big.

I'll toss aside the favorite and go with the horse to his outside, Silentio. Owned by the same folks that brought us Goldikova (IRE) several years ago, Silentio is a solid 3-2-0-1 in his young career with all three runs coming over the lawn. I love the breeding on this colt - by Silent Name (JPN) out of a A.P. Indy mare (Listen A.P.); I'm all out of ideas in this race.

Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, 7f, Dirt, 3yo

G1-Malibu Stakes; Post Time: 6:52pm/3:52pm
PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Fed Biz M. Smith B. Baffert 9/2
2 Jimmy Creed G. Gomez R. Mandella 9/2
3 Drill M. Garcia B. Baffert 8/1
4 The Lumber Guy J. Velazquez N. Drysdale 3/1
5 Politicallycorrect J. Rosario W. Ward 6/1
6 Basmati M. Gutierrez D. O'Neill 20/1
7 Castaway J. Talamo B. Baffert 20/1
8 Private Zone M. Pedroza D. O'Neill 8/1
9 Guilt Trip R. Bejarano B. Baffert 15/1
10 Unbridled's Note C. Nakatani S. Asmussen 9/2

The final Grade 1 race of 2012 features a strong field of ten, including several horses coming back after good runs at the Breeders' Cup.

1-Fed Biz (9/2) did little to no running in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile where he wasn't able to get up and on the pace as in prior races. The pace situation should be much improved in this spot although he'll have to be on his toes (hooves) leaving the starting gate if he's going to break on top from the rail.

3-Drill (8/1) comes back versus G1 company after taking the entire summer and fall off after his win in a G3 race at Hollywood in mid-May. Baffert fires well off the bench but he's going to have to be super primed to win this off of a layoff. He's a perfect three-for-three at seven furlongs.

4-The Lumber Guy (3/1) was my pick to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint, making it two years in a row I picked the place horse and not the winner. Typical.

As much as I really like this colt I'm again hesitant to back him after such a big effort at the Breeder's Cup and against as strong of a field as this one. He's run big off short rest earlier this year (won the G2-Jerome off 14-days rest), so it's not like he can't put up back-to-back big efforts, but he won't get this race handed to him.

10-Unbridled's Note (9/2) returns to the dirt after a couple of good runs over the downhill turf course at Santa Anita. He's run well at the trip before (2-1-0-1) but I wonder if the typically speed favoring Santa Anita main track might be a bit much for him to overcome against such a strong group of rivals.

I don't love the layoff for Drill but I can't get away from the fact that he loves the trip and he's at a very nice morning line price of 8/1. With The Lumber Guy, Unbridled's Note and Fed Biz exiting tough Breeders' Cup races, a fresh Drill could be the one to beat.

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