Jeff Siegel's Santa Anita Analysis - Dec. 26, 2009

Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary season begins with a stellar 10-race program that offers plenty of rolling exotic value. The Pro Ride surface generally offers the closers a bit of an advantage, especially in races with contested speed, so don’t be afraid to back a late runner and you just might get a nice price doing just that.

We’re intrigued by #6 Mr. Braggadocio in the opener and at 8-1 on the morning he’s a “must use” in your rolling daily double, pick-3, and the early pick-4. Dropping out of a straight maiden state bred race into a maiden claimer for Cassidy, the juvenile colt retains Flores and has come back to work pretty well over this track. He’s got enough speed to be within striking range throughout, and if he moves forward as expected he’ll be dangerous. #4 Veecu had no visible excuse when third at 3/5 across town but he does have the style to enjoy this elongated sprint trip, so we’ll toss him in. And #10 Strikingly Sinful lands a comfortable outside post, removes blinkers, and retains Espinoza. We'll give him one more chance.

A bottom of the barrel route affair occupies the second half of the early daily double and #5 Super Harmony should improve a ton in his first start for Craig Dollase. The veteran gelding has won over this track in the past, continues to act sharp in the morning, and switches to Martin Pedroza. His best puts him right there and at 9/2 on the morning line he’ll be our top pick. #7 One Shot drops drastically in class and is always tough on the front end. If he’s got one more good one left in him, the Avila-trained gelding will be hard to overhaul. #9 Smooth and Savvy has some back form that makes him a fit at this level and has run well over the track in the past. He’s worth using in the exotics.

#2 Acclamation is entered tomorrow in the San Gabriel Handicap so he might scratch out of the third race but if he goes today he’ll be hard to beat. Third at 75-1 in the Hollywood Derby after leading the way into the lane, the son of Unusual Heat clearly out classes this first level allowance field and should fall into an ideal pace prompting position. The likely pacesetter – stretching out and trying turf for the first time – is the Carla Gaines-trained #5 Tactful. The Bertrando gelding was lugging out throughout when dominating a fairly decent sprint field at Hollywood Park last month but he’d better not pull that same stunt in this spot. However, if he relaxes on the front end he’ll take them a very long way and looks like the one the favorite has to fear most.

The fourth race is a weak bottom rung maiden claiming router for older fillies and mares and should be a spread race for rolling exotics players. Use as many as you can afford to, but the three that definitely should be on your ticket are #8 Singitnsignit, #2 Lucy Got Lucky, and #1 Glory Forever. Singitnsignit has that classic two-sprints-and-a-stretch-out pattern and the pedigree to improve a ton over a distance of ground. She’s actually run better in both of her sprint races that it looks like on paper – in both outings she was finishing as well as anything in the final furlong – and her recent works indicate she very much wants more ground. She’s certainly the most dangerous 30-1 morning line runner on the program and is a “must use” in your exotics. Lucy Got Lucky is a first-off-the-claim play now in the Canani barn, so don’t be surprised to see vast improvement. She’s drawn comfortably inside and under Pedroza should be prominent throughout. Glory Forever stretches out for the first time, lands the rail, and will take them as far as she can. On pedigree she might have a hard time staying the trip but if a sprinter is ever going to stay a middle distance, it’ll be the first time trying.

Throughout the 83-day season we’ll be faced with dozens of down-the-hill turf raffles and the fifth race is one such affair. The two most likely to run well are #4 High Standards and #5 Crossing the Line, so be sure to include them both on your rolling exotic ticket. High Standards ran second in a stakes race over this course a couple of years ago so the switch in surface won’t be an issue and the Marty Jones-trained gelding has enough early speed to stay out of trouble. He’s winless this year but has run a few winning races and is overdue for some luck. Crossing the Line was rusty in his comeback but should be much tighter and fitter today for Sadler. He’ll he eight years old in a week, and this will only be his eighth lifetime start. But he’s won five of seven lifetime and is back with Gomez, who won the Del Mar Mile Handicap on him back in 2007.

The first of four stakes races on the program is the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, which goes as the sixth event, and #4 Caracortado deserves top billing despite the fact he’s trying a distance of ground for the first time while moving up in class. An athletic gelding with smooth, silky action, the son of Cat Dreams seems like a candidate to stretch out successfully, especially if he’s part of what should be a moderate pace. The main threat might come from a filly, #8 La Nez, who also was entered on Sunday in the filly version of this race. Not sure which event trainer Eric Kruljac will opt for, but if she remains here the daughter of Storm Creek must be given a legitimate look, having already won a stakes over the Pro Surface during the Oak Tree meeting. We’ll use her if she runs; otherwise Caracortado is a strong single candidate.

The Sir Beaufort Stakes, which last year was won by Gio Ponti in an off-the-turf affair, probably doesn’t have anybody quite that good in the field this year. Or maybe it does. #6 The Usual Q. T. has reeled off five straight wins on grass, most recently capturing the Hollywood Derby at 10 furlongs, but he’s every bit as effective at this one mile trip and anything close to his best race makes him the most likely winner on the program. There’s no value at 4/5 on the morning line, but if you’re looking for a rolling exotics single, he’s your – and everybody else’s – logical candidate.

The Grade 1 La Brea Stakes, the first event in the La Canada series, is extremely deep and competitive, and has a number of contenders that must be used in the rolling exotics. We’ll give ever so slight preference to #4 Amazed by Grace, who is seeking her sixth straight win but is trying a synthetic track (and seven furlongs) for the first time. She’s trained well over the Pro Ride while preparing for this race and while she has plenty of early speed she has shown the ability to sit off the pace and rally for victory as well, so Gomez has a few options. At first glance 6-1 on the morning line seems juicy, but that’s probably what she should be in a field loaded with talent. #1 Kays and Jays won the Cascapedia Stakes from the rail at this trip during the Oak Tree meeting and is thoroughly genuine and consistent. #5 Evita Argentina was victimized by a lack of pace and a very wide trip when unplaced in the B.C. Filly & Mare sprint last time out; this clearly is an easier spot and she has been a graded stakes winner at this distance on this track in the past. There certainly would appear to be enough early speed to compliment her late-running style. And #10 Gabby’s Golden Gal has trained like her old self for Baffert, and anything close to her superb victory in the Acorn Stakes on Belmont Stakes day last summer will make her very difficult to beat.

The traditional opening day feature – and the final Grade 1 event of the year – is the Malibu Stakes, the penultimate event on the program. #1 Misremembered has never been tried around one turn but he deserves a big look based on his superb runner up try (beaten a neck) against top older handicap runners in the Clark at Churchill Downs last month. The rail is no bargain but a recent sharp drill should have him on edge and while the Strub at nine furlongs is his ultimate goal, the son of Candy Ride just might win this on class alone. The first three finishers in the Damascus Stakes, run under similar conditions on Breeders’ Cup day, return and all three, #11 Smart Bid, #4 Supreme Summit and #13 M One Rifle, are hard to separate. Any one of the three could improve enough to win. If you’re looking for a tote buster, you might want to consider #2 Kinsella, who like Misremembered has never sprinted, but has an exceptional turn of foot and could be very dangerous from off the pace if the early fractions are reasonable. He’s been training for several weeks over the Pro Ride specifically for this race and acts like he loves it.

The nightcap is a tough maiden juvenile sprint affair that has couple of second time starters who should improve a bunch with a race underneath them. #2 Nextdoorneighbor missed by a less than a length in a sharp debut for Mike Machowsky last month and earned a good figure in the process. With any kind of forward move today he’ll be difficult to deny. #1 Ziggy’s Stardust might eventually prefer a route of ground, but he finished with interest in a solid debut and is another very likely to improve with experience. Same can be said for #6 Leothelion, who kept to his task in his debut and should be the better for it. And trainer Julio Canani has a promising first timer in #7 Big Man Has a Sign, who has done everything right in the morning. Martin Pedroza, who rides, has worked this colt for Julio, so he knows him well, and the Petionville gelding must be used at 8-1 on the morning line.