Jeff Siegel's Santa Anita Analysis (Wed. December 26)

The 2012-13 Santa Anita winter/spring meeting offers a terrific nine race opening day program. As this is written, the races remain on turf, but that could change, so check for updates on this website. First post time is Noon.

In the opener, Tribal Jewel adds blinkers and that equipment change might make a winning difference after the Hollendorfer-trained gelding missed at even money vs. similar in an off-the-turfer across town. He has a good stalking style and in a field with at least a couple of need-the-lead types Bejarano may decide to tuck in and wait a bit. We’ll see if that strategy works. Sir Bonds could not take advantage of a perfect trip in the Damascus Stakes in his local debut and hung noticeably to finish a disappointing fourth. However, those were better horses than he’s facing today and this easier spot combined with a stretch out in trip likely will help considerably. He probably wants to be anchored early and allowed to make one run. Macho Dorado likes this main track and exits a hot race, but there’s a question whether he’s as effective two-turning. He’s a fit on numbers and Talamo rides him back for Mitchell.

The second race is a contentious downhill turf affair for mid-level claimers. A slight preference goes to Drift King , who was bottled up in the final furlong and never had a chance when beaten as the choice in his last start across town. However, he also failed as the chalk when runner-up without mishap two runs back. He did run well down the hill during the autumn meeting when second vs. similar and with clear sailing today should be in the fray throughout. Newfound Gold always has preferred to run second or third rather than win but he’s bred for turf and we’re thinking he’s going to like it. Bejarano stays aboard and should have him pressing the issue throughout. Mr. Bossy Pants showed next to nothing in Phoenix in his recent comeback but you have to respect his record over this downhill course so we’re anticipating a bounce back performance. Maldonado should have him in an ideal pace stalking spot.

The third race doesn’t offer much to work with. Time to Doubledown gets preference; he returns off a year layoff in a very soft spot for a trainer who excels with comebackers. With Rosario taking the call, this Trippi gelding should be very live in his first start for a tag. Sky Fox is another contending comebacker; he’s a fit on numbers and Headley is another who shows good stats with returnees.

There’s really no wagering value in the La Brea Stakes, as My Miss Aurelia is listed at 4/5 on the ML. She had her unbeaten streak snapped by Royal Delta in the BC Ladies Classic but lost little in defeat; she actually did quite well to rally for second over a blatantly biased pro-speed track. Nakatani should have her along on time today as a logical rolling exotic single.

The Sir Beaufort Stakes brings together a strong field of 3-year-olds at a mile on turf. Fit to Rule just broke his maiden and by all rights should be out classed in this graded stakes, but at 8-1 on the morning line he’s worth a closer look. He’s making his first start on turf and his sire Hard Spun can get a grass runner; couple that with an ideal inside draw and a pace scenario that should find him as the controlling speed and the O’Neill-trained colt has upset potential, especially if he can repeat the huge fig that he earned last month at Hollywood Park. Our top pick, though, is Big Bane Theory, an impressive winner over this course on Breeders’ Cup day. He was subsequently in a bit steep in the Hollywood Derby, though a rough trip did him no favors. Talamo should have him poised and ready to pounce when it matters. Silencio had no excuse when missing as the choice here in October but he switches to Bejarano and shortens to a mile so we’re thinking he’ll have ideal conditions today. Toss him in somewhere in the exotics.

A very strong group of maidens contest the sixth race. Footbridge has done everything right in the morning for Harty and we’ll use him despite the rail. Aleander is a Baffert first timer who has flashed dangerous speed in the morning and looks cranked up and ready to go. It doesn’t show it in the trouble notes, but Belvin didn’t break well in his debut and it probably cost him a win. The son of Empire Maker made up ground steadily to enter contention into the lane and kept to his task to finish a solid second while earning a legitimate figure. Today he gets an extra half furlong to work with and Bejarano could have him along in time. Due to experience, Belvin gets our top billing but all three should be included in rolling exotic play.

Sarangani has been away since June but he’s working like he’s fit and ready for Headley and may be tough to catch in the seventh race, a stronger than par starter’s allowance event. Though he’s a little light in the speed figure department, the lightly-raced gelding has run well fresh in the past and retains Talamo, so you have to use him. Winds of Dubai exits a straight $50,000 claimer for 3-year-olds and shows up in a softer affair today. He switches to Bejarano and should be a factor from off the pace. Rintoo offers a long shot chance at 8-1 on the morning line. The Hendricks-trained colt never was able to get involved in a hot turf miler vs. considerably tougher foes at Del Mar but made up some ground late and ran better than the line will show. He’s looking much improved in the morning lately and switches to Bejarano, so we’re expecting a major forward move today.

The Malibu Stakes, the final Grade 1 race of the year, brings out a stellar field of 3-year-olds. Drill has been burning up the track for Baffert and he’s unbeaten in three starts at this seven furlong distance, so he must be considered a major player despite the layoff. He has the kind of tactical speed that should land him an ideal pace prompting position. The Lumber Guy deserves the favorite’s roll following his superb runner-up effort in the BC Sprint. He’s now in the Drysdale barn and Johnny V. flies out to ride him. There’s no question he’s the one to beat. Politicallycorrect overcame a severe pro-speed bias to win the Damascus Stakes on this track in November while earning a legit triple-digit Beyer fig, and retains Rosario. Maybe he’s always wanted to be a one-corner horse. At 6-1 on the morning line he may offer the best value in the field, so let’s put him on top while using all three in our rolling exotics.

The finale is a competitive straight maiden dash that features a few promising colts. Delayed has shown enough in the morning to warrant a close look in his debut for Baffert; he’s certainly been given a solid foundation and in an unclassified field warrants inclusion at 6-1 on the morning line. Scorpion Warrior disappeared after finishing an excellent second to Ky. Derby winner I’ll Have Another in a hot maiden sprint in July of his two-year-old season. The comeback works are solid and Rosario shows up so we’re assuming he’s fit and ready for Mulhall, who does extremely well with layoff runners. Wild Media flashed some promise in his debut, has come back to work well since that race for Headley. We’ll triple the race in our rolling exotics while preferring Scorpion Warrior on top.