Jeff Siegel's Santa Anita Analysis (Thu., Dec. 26, 2013)

The 2013-14 Santa Anita winter/spring season begins with a solid nine race program that includes three stakes, two of which are Grade-1’s. There’s a half-million dollar guarantee pick-4 beginning with the sixth race.

The opener looks like a good spot for #2 Crusher to earn his diploma. An improving gelding in Mullins’s barn, the son of Strong Contender should draft into an ideal pace-stalking position from his comfortable inside draw and then have every chance to exert his superiority late. We have him on top but if you’d like to protect in rolling exotic play consider the two O’Neill entrants, #5 Mikey T (a 14-race maiden but stretching out and dropping to the bottom) and #7 Gold Tie Please (blinkers on, first-off-the-claim and switching to Bejarano).

#5 Battled just finished first in a straight maiden sprint earlier this month at Hollywood Park but had his number taken down so in today’s second race he’s back with a similar group and should make the most of it. On numbers he’s a standout and there’s every reason to believe the Baffert-trained colt with continue to improve experience. He’s 7/5 on the morning with Rosario and quite likely will go lower.

The third race, a starter’s allowance affair on turf for fillies and mares, has three main contenders. #7 Amanda tried two turns for the first time a couple of weeks ago and crushed a modest maiden claiming field; she looks capable of winning right back in a race with very little early speed. Talamo should have this daughter of Smarty Jones on or near the lead throughout. #1 Buckingham Bull has been in the thick of things in all of her recent starts but she doesn’t seem to have much of a winning punch. She’ll have every chance, though, from her cozy inside post with Nakatani staying aboard. Cavalletta has the always-dangerous blinkers off angle working for her and although winless in six career starts over this course she has managed to finish second in five of those races. The Hendricks-trained filly might be the most dangerous of the closers.

The fourth races kicks off the Pick-6; we’ll go three deep while preferring #9 Big Macher on top. Drawn nicely outside while making a major switch to Bejarano, the Baltas-trained gelding earned a giant speed figure when second in a similar event across town earlier this month and he really won’t have to improve much to beat this field. #4 Hadfunlastnight is genuine and consistent and should be a strong pace factor throughout. #8 Five Points, a closing fourth in the same race Big Macher exits, is lightly raced with plenty of improvement possible; he switches to Rosario and sports a recent bullet five furlong workout over this strip.

#3 Koast and #10 Mr. Bossy Pants meet again in the fifth race, a downhill turf sprint for older high priced claimers. They finished noses apart when facing off Oct. 31 and they’re tough to separate once again. ‘Pants has a tad more tactical speed and a nice outside draw, so maybe he deserves a bit of an edge, but we’re splitting hairs. Both should be included in rolling exotic play and we’ll be surprised if the winner isn’t one or the other.

The late Pick-4 begins with the sixth race, the Gr. 1 La Brea Stakes over seven furlongs for 3-year-old fillies, and #1 Sweet Lulu looks very much like a logical short-priced single. Already a Gr. 1 winner at this trip (the Test S. at Saratoga), she didn’t run badly at all when forcing the pace and then weakening late to be fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last time out. The Hollendorfer-trained daughter of Mr. Greeley catches a decidedly softer pace scenario today, so rail and all she looks hard to beat.

The Gr. 2 Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on turf for 3-year-olds came up unusually strong in the seventh race, with #8 No Jet Lag tackling his own age group after finishing off the board in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in his last appearance. Most effective when anchored early and allowed to cut loose late, he was much too close to the pace behind Wise Dan and company but with a change of tactics today – and the switch to Rosario – he should be along in time. The major threat comes from #9 Tom’s Tribute, a versatile and highly-talented Lion Heart colt with rising numbers and a powerful late kick. He’s won half of his six career starts and we’ve haven’t seen the best of him just yet.

The featured Gr. 1 Malibu Stakes, the traditional opening day feature, has a ton of intense early speed in the lineup, so the natural inclination is to pinpoint the best of the closing types. How about the Midwestern invader #7 Central Banker? The quality colt from Al Stall, Jr.’s barn hasn’t yet defeated this type of competition but he earned a career top number when second in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap at Fair Grounds last month and he gets an extra furlong to work with. There’s some value here at 6-1 on the morning line under Talamo. #5 Zeewat won the Damascus Stakes during the autumn meeting with a strong number and he continues to impress in the morning for Hollendorfer, so he’s probably not done improving. The best of the speed – thorough seven furlongs might really be stretching his limit – is #11 Distinctiv Passion, who could be dangerous if he can establish an easy lead without trying to run off. He’s worth using somewhere in your exotics at 6-1 on the morning line.

The finale is a modest maiden claiming sprint for juveniles; you should use as many as you can afford to in rolling exotic play. #2 Magna Warrior is a first-timer from the rail – a low percentage play to be sure – but he’s worked well enough to act with these and hails from a barn that is solid with debut runners. #5 Confisio exits a much tougher straight maiden event and is worth using on that angle alone, while #8 Mr. Cactus is a class dropper switching surfaces while making a pivotal switch to Bejarano.