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One day after Christmas, Opening Day at Santa Anita is always a treat and this year promises to be no different. This season’s lid lifter at the beautiful Southern California track features six graded stakes races, with three of them being Grade 1. In the headliner, trainer Bob Baffert will be in search of his sixth win in the Malibu Stakes (G1) when he sends out the formidable trio of Speed Boat Beach, Fort Bragg, and Hejazi.
In the female counterpart, Clearly Unhinged could be a tepid choice against nine other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes. The other Grade 1 race of the afternoon will also be for sophomore fillies. The $300,000 American Oaks is on the turf and is headlined by the English-bred Anisette. Without further ado, let’s get to my best bets in four of the strongest races from the top-notch card of racing.
First or second in all five starts since arriving in the United States, Anisette will be the one they all have to beat among a field of seven entered in the $300,000 American Oaks (G1) on Santa Anita’s turf course on opening day.
After flying late to win an allowance at Santa Anita in her American debut, the English-bred daughter of Awtaad rattled off consecutive graded stakes victories in the San Clemente (G2) and the Del Mar Oaks (G1). More recently, she has closed to finish second in a pair of graded stakes races on the grass at Santa Anita.
Chief among her competition in the 10-furlong test on Tuesday will be the well-traveled Irish-bred Be Your Best. Trained by Horacio De Paz, the bay stakes winner exits a pretty good effort where she was beaten less than two lengths by the boys in the Twilight Derby (G2). Earlier this season she finished second in a pair of graded stakes, including the Del Mar Oaks behind Anisette.
Another interesting American Oaks contender is Khinjani. The English-bred filly will be making her first start in the U.S. on Tuesday after ten starts in her native land. Now trained by Mark Glatt, she has finished first or second in four of her last five starts and will pick up the services of Frankie Dettori. Still, it’s hard to look past the favorite here. Anisette is the top pick.
$20 Exacta Part Wheel - Anisette over Khinjani and Be Your Best = $40
$10 Exacta Part Wheel - Khinjani over Anisette and Be Your Best = $20
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Trainer Bob Baffert will be tough to stop as he looks for his sixth career victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. His trio of Speed Boat Beach, Fort Bragg, and Hejazi all figure dangerous in the 7-furlong feature of opening day at the Great Raceplace.
Of the three, Speed Boat Beach could be singled out as the favorite. A talented sprinter on both turf and dirt, he returned two starts back to just miss in a game performance in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2). Last time out, the Bayern colt led early and stayed on pretty well against the best older sprinters in the land to be fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Fort Bragg and Hejazi each have the talent to upset their stablemate. They both have solid graded stakes experience and came in off impressive allowance scores last month.
All of the Baffert horses, and a few others in the field, have a high turn of early speed. At seven furlongs, this could set it up nicely for the one strong rallier in the field, Raise Cain. Both of his stakes wins this year came from behind in one-turn races. The son of Violence has a big shot to upset the Baffert apple cart on Tuesday. He will be the top pick for the upset.
$10 Exacta Box - Raise Cain and Speed Boat Beach = $20
$5 Exacta Box - Raise Cain and Fort Bragg = $10
$5 Exacta Box - Raise Cain and Hejazi = $10
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As part of a nice mix of turf and dirt on the card, the Grade 2 Mathis Mile Stakes will be the final grass stakes of the opening day afternoon. Headlining the field of eight sophomore turf males going a flat mile will be the English-bred Almendares.
A solid performer on Dundalk’s all-weather surface in Ireland to begin his career, he has taken to the turf since arriving in America four starts back. He has won two of four for trainer Phil D’Amato, and in the other two his late rally fell just a length short in graded stakes at Del Mar and Santa Anita.
Recent stakes winner Dandy Man Shines could be the likely favorite’s biggest threat. It took the Jeff Mullins-trainee some time to break his maiden, but he’s been a sharp winner in his last two. An impressive maiden winner in September, he parlayed that into another good looking win in the Let It Ride Stakes last month. Both wins came at the one mile distance.
Another to watch in this turf test will be the Mark Glatt-trained Watsonville. The son of Jack Milton has more early speed than the rest of the top contenders and was competitive in each of his first two graded stakes tries. He also should appreciate the cut back in distance to a flat mile. He will be the top pick.
$10 Exacta Box - Watsonville and Almendares = $20
$10 Exacta Box - Watsonville and Dandy Man Shines = $20
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In a race won by thRace #10 La Brea Stakes (G1) $300,000 7-furlongs dirt - 6:30pm EST
The female counterpart to the Malibu, the 7-furlong, Grade 1 La Brea features a competitive field of ten. Coming straight out of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, Clearly Unhinged looks to be the most likely favorite in an interesting race.
The 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief has yet to break through and win a stakes race, but it looks to be only a matter of time. A winner of two of six overall, she finished second in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, before running second again against older mares in the Chillingsworth Stakes at Santa Anita. Last time, she was not embarrassed when finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup.
Perhaps the most interesting filly in the field will be the Brad Cox-trained Howl. She’s only run twice, but the daughter of Practical Joke looked great in winning her career debut two months ago at Keeneland. She followed that up with a facile score in the listed Safely Kept Stakes at Laurel Park last time.
In a race with plenty of early speed, one horse who should come running late is Royal Spa. A return winner of a strong allowance race at Churchill Downs last month, she is a perfect 3-for-3 while sprinting. The daughter of Violence has faced good competition in her career and should fit in with this group. The pace scenario should suit her nicely. She is the top pick.
$20 Win & Place - Royal Spa = $40
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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