Jeff Siegel's Prime Picks for Saturday, Jan. 3

We have an challenging card on Saturday with consistently good-sized fields and excellent wagering opportunities. In the 2nd race, trainer Ron Ellis is removing the blinkers from the exceptionally quick #6 Ubetimfast in an effort to slow down the Richter Scale gelding after he ran off early and faded late in a similar spot at Hollywood Park last month. He’ll have to deal with recent maiden winner #2 Yukon Bull and if those two hook up early, the race could set up nicely for the stalking #5 Let’spickupthepace, whose numbers are steadily improving for the starting-to-get-hot Mike Mitchell barn. It’ll be interesting to see how the track plays today; yesterday there were three gate-to-wire winners but deep closers won a couple as well. The track has been quite fair so far this meeting, with pace and race-shapes determining where the winners have been coming from. The 3rd race has a number of high potential first time starting maidens, but the edge may belong to a colt with a race under his belt, #7 Snapshot. Well-backed in his debut but fading after pressing the pace in a contentious race last summer at Del Mar, the son of Awesome Again has worked like he means business for Sise (excellent with layoff runners) and gets blinkers and Flores. Among the newcomers who have impressed the clockers are #2 Street Car ($170,000 yearling by Street Cry, Baffert/Gomez); #3 Pleasure to Ride (homebred colt by Candy Ride, Hollendorfer/Bejarano); #5 Mr. President (homebred colt by Vindication, Shirreffs/Espinoza) and #8 Wall Street Wonder ($325,000 2-year-old in training purchase, Baffert/Nakatani). The 5th race is one of the tougher $25,000 Nw-2 claimers you’ll see around here. #1 Kearns Prints looked quite good graduating last month and with continued improvement could be tough right back, although the rail post takes away a few of Talamo’s options. Also worth considering is #5 Utahn, third in a blazing starter’s allowance race in late November won by upstart It’s In God’s Hands. And #10 Evaluate drops into a claimer for the first time and lands Gomez, so he looks extremely well meant for Baffert. I would think the winner will be one of these three. The 7th race is a first level allowance sprint for fillies and mares and the Bobby Frankel-trained #2 Queenofalldiamonds could fire a winning shot fresh in her California debut. She was visually impressive winning at Keeneland in October and has trained like she’s ready for a similar performance today. Although she’s in with open company today, #3 Onebadkitty is a major player following a clever score vs. state breds on turf across town. She was an excellent second over this track last year in a Calbred stakes and this extended sprint distance seems perfect for her stalking/closing style. You also should consider #5 Cool Haleigh, the fastest filly on speed figures but possibly in need of some help up front, as she’s primarily a deep closing sprinter. The one they all have to beat is #11 Elinvar, a comebacker in the John Shirreffs’s barn who has trained lights out for her first start since November of ’07. She won her debut, so you know she can fire fresh, and if she can transfer her turf form to the Pro-ride surface, she could very well be along in time. The Monrovia Handicap, which goes as the 8th race, is one of those top-to-bottom-a-chance events and with racing luck #9 Contentious could spring a surprise. She’s been primarily a miler during her career, but those types often explode off the hill, and she seems most effective when held up early and allowed to run late. That’s the way Brice Blanc will ride her. Barry Abrams has #1 Lethal Heat fresh and dangerous but she’ll need some luck from the inside draw. Garrett Gomez is reunited with #2 Jibboom, whom he guided to victory in a highly-rated middle distance grass event at Hollywood Park in November. She was, however, a graded stakes winner two years ago sprinting at Keeneland so the course might suit her just right. And if they don’t respect her early speed, #3 La Tee might never look back. She almost stole the Ken Maddy Stakes under similar conditions during the Oak Tree meeting. If you’re looking for a Pick-4/Pick-6 single, you might want to consider #11 Tizzy Salsa in the 9th race. She exits one of the strongest maiden claiming races of the year (a distant second behind Threat) and has come back to train exceptionally well for Hollendorfer. She should have a trouble free trip from her outside draw while switching to Bejarano and represents excellent value at 5-1 on the morning line.