Of the seven stakes set for Santa Anita’s opening festivities Saturday, four are on turf. The $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) and $75,000 Lady of Shamrock – first scheduled for the traditional Thursday opener that was postponed two days by an adverse weather forecast – now join the $300,000 American Oaks (G1) and $100,000 Robert J. Frankel (G3) on the banner card.
The 1 1/4-mile American Oaks could put Lady Prancealot’s stamina to the test. Winner of the Honeymoon (G3) and third in the Del Mar Oaks (G1), the Richard Baltas filly was a non-threatening sixth when stepping up to 1 3/8 miles in the Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park. The daughter of Sir Prancealot rebounded on the cutback in the Valley View (G3) last out, and she’ll try to use her class edge to offset distance concerns.
San Clemente (G2) heroine Mucho Unusual notably teams up with Joel Rosario for the first time since her signature win. Although seventh in the Del Mar Oaks and most recently ninth in a salty Matriarch (G1), she’s likely up to that level on this circuit in the right circumstances.
Vibrance, coming off a third versus elders in the 1 3/8-mile Red Carpet H. (G3), is eligible to prosper at this trip. Last year’s Chandelier (G1) runner-up and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) third has a touch of back class, and if unable to progress on dirt, she’s still got upside on turf.
Apache Princess stretches out after a trio of sprint stakes placings, but was a close second in the San Clemente over the summer and picks up Javier Castellano. Recent maiden winner So Much Happy figures to show speed on the rail, and Autumn Miss (G3) runner-up Giza Goddess ought to mix it up as well, so the pace might not be too dawdling. Deep-closing Pretty Point, by Point of Entry from the family of Pure Clan, is bred to enjoy the added ground, and K P Slickem rounds out the cast.
The Mathis Brothers Mile features the streaking Mo Forza, bidding to follow up on his Hollywood Derby (G1) and Twilight Derby (G2) victories for Peter Miller. Several of his rivals are familiar, chief among them Neptune’s Storm, who was third in the Twilight Derby and second in the Hollywood version.
Successful in the Hill Prince (G2) earlier in the fall, the admirably consistent Neptune’s Storm is joined by once-beaten stablemate Bob and Jackie. That Richard Baltas pupil had captured the course-and-distance Eddie Logan at this time last year, then resurfaced from a 10-month layoff to add the Let It Ride S. at Del Mar over Proud Pedro and Ocean Fury. Bob and Jackie, parked in the far outside post 11, has the early speed to chase presumptive pacesetter Kingly.
Perhaps the most interesting of the stakes newcomers is Never Easy from the barn of Hall of Famer Richard Mandella. The son of Candy Ride and smart turfiste Wasted Tears was second in Mo Forza’s maiden before going on to take his next two. Mark Glatt debuts two British recruits, Sash and Barristan the Bold, both handicap types purchased at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. Juddmonte-bred Sash commanded about $431,726 and gets Drayden Van Dyke, while Barristan the Bold brought $101,186 and lures Castellano.
Originaire, the Del Mar Derby (G2) near-misser, has since been unplaced in both the Twilight and Hollywood Derby. Loafers Boy is thrown in the deep end after a sprint maiden on the Los Alamitos dirt.
The Robert J. Frankel for distaffers also has a clear one to beat in Mirth, the front-running victress of the Rodeo Drive (G1). The Phil D’Amato filly rattled off an unsustainable pace in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), where she folded to sixth, but promises to be back on song on the class drop.
Curlin’s Journey, a troubled second in the Red Carpet last out, aims to continue her progress. Excellent Sunset, runner-up in last year’s Frankel, makes her first start for Baltas. Note that he’s firing at 29 percent with his “blinkers off” moves. Streak of Luck, second to Vasilika in the Buena Vista (G2), has yet to run back to that performance from February. Ms. Peintour, stuck in the second-level allowance ranks, nevertheless tends to perform better at Santa Anita as her third in the 2018 Honeymoon (G2) indicates.
Tiny Tina, who beat Mirth in an allowance at this track and trip back in May, hasn’t factored in her three ensuing stakes appearances. Similarly, sophomore Harmless upset Excellent Sunset and Don’t Blame Judy in a Del Mar allowance but should find this a much tougher challenge.
The one-mile Lady of Shamrock for three-year-old fillies shapes up as a good spot for Keeper Of the Stars. The winner of the Autumn Miss two back didn’t enjoy the stretch-out in the Red Carpet, tiring to sixth as the 6-5 favorite. Back down in trip here, Keeper Of the Stars meets Lakerball, 10th in the Matriarch off a layoff; Brill, who tries turf for the first time; upwardly mobile imports Mischiffie and Bodhicitta; Miller’s Lucky Peridot; Angel Alessandra; and Sold It.