While Santa Anita commands attention on its traditional Dec. 26 kickoff, the Saturday card at Fair Grounds is not to be overlooked. The historic New Orleans track hosts a trio of $75,000 stakes on the day after Christmas, featuring several notable runners on both dirt and turf.
Woodchopper Stakes – Race 9 (5:52 p.m. ET)
Anchoring the Saturday stakes is the Woodchopper for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf. Godolphin’s homebred Pixelate boasts the strongest credentials as the Del Mar Derby (G2) hero. Also placed in a series of stakes, the Mike Stidham pupil was runner-up in the Feb. 29 Black Gold in his only prior appearance on this Stall-Wilson turf course, and most significantly, he chased Gufo home in a course-record Kent (G3) July 4 at Delaware Park. Pixelate hasn’t added to his resume in his last pair, a fifth to Gufo in the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) and a closing fourth in the Nov. 6 Bryan Station after bobbling at the break at Keeneland.
The Woodchopper distance is on the shorter side of his effective range, but Pixelate is comfortably the best by Brisnet Prime Power. Angel Suarez, his rider in the Kent, regains the mount.
“I don’t think the cutback will be a problem,” Stidham told track publicity. “He can lay in a forward position. I would prefer it being 1 1/16 miles but from a class standpoint he’s been hooking some tough horses and I think he’s in a good spot.”
Familiar foe Bodecream is pegged as the slight 7-2 favorite on the morning line to Pixelate’s 4-1. Transferred to Mike Maker after selling to Repole Stable for $50,000 at Fasig-Tipton over the summer, the Texas Turf Mile winner has placed in all three starts for his new connections. Bodecream was third in both the Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G2), and a change to more prominent tactics saw him miss by just a nose in the Nov. 27 Gio Ponti. Now he gets James Graham.
Maker is triple-handed with Telephone Talker, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred who makes his stakes debut here, as well as recent $50,000 claim Dynadrive. Stidham also has a chance aside from Pixelate, courtesy of Columbia S. scorer Doc Boy, eligible to show more second off the layoff – and with Florent Geroux.
Other contenders in the 13-strong field include the Joe Sharp duo of Blackberry Wine and Spanish Kingdom; the Al Stall-trained Oak Hill; Jack the Umpire, placed in two of three turf stakes tries; and European import Stanford who makes his second stateside start for Wayne Catalano.
Broussard Memorial Stakes – Race 8 (5:23 p.m. ET)
Four-time Grade 3 queen Lady Apple is only the 3-1 third choice in a six-horse field, which says something about the quality of the Joseph E. “Spanky” Broussard Memorial. The top two on the morning line, Whoa Nellie (8-5) and Beautiful Trauma (9-5), bring better form of late.
Whoa Nellie comes off a useful third in the Nov. 21 Chilukki (G3) at Churchill Downs, her first start back from a nine-month layoff.
“She’s better now than she was then,” trainer Larry Jones said. “Coming into that Chilukki off a nine-month layoff, that was not an easy task, and for her to run that well and against those horses, and to finish as well as she did, that race should tighten her up really well.”
Whoa Nellie had been at the top of her game previously at Oaklawn Park, where she dominated the Pippin and went down by a neck in the Bayakoa (G3). Whoa Nellie is capable of returning to at least that level with Geroux aboard, and Jones is already anticipating a productive 2021.
The promising if inconsistent Beautiful Trauma makes her stakes debut for Tom Amoss. A 16-length allowance romper at this mile and 70-yard trip here last December, she wasn’t seen again for 10 months. Beautiful Trauma flopped in her belated sophomore reappearance at Keeneland, but rebounded by wiring a Churchill allowance Nov. 12.
Lady Apple returns to action for the first time since commanding $1.2 million at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November. Owner Phoenix Thoroughbred III bought out partner (and breeder) KatieRich Farms and sent the filly right back to Hall of Fame horseman Steve Asmussen. Winless since the Jan. 26 Houston Ladies Classic (G3), Lady Apple was fourth on the surface switch in the Sept. 12 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) last out. Adam Beschizza takes the call aboard the daughter of Curlin who might benefit from her fall freshening.
Ignacio Correas sends out multiple Argentine Group 1 veteran Joy Epifora, runner-up to Lady Kate in her U.S. premiere but disappointing since. Rounding out the cast are Singita Dreams and Longpants Required.
Pago Hop Stakes – Race 7 (4:54 p.m. ET)
The companion event to the Woodchopper, the Pago Hop for 3-year-old turf fillies opens the stakes action, and Maker likewise has the 7-2 morning-line favorite in Evil Lyn. Victorious in the Oct. 3 Hilltop on Preakness Day, Evil Lyn made it two in a row by getting up in a Churchill allowance, where Teenage Kicks was a near-miss third. Geroux has to navigate from the far outside post 11, though.
In Good Spirits has been thereabouts in her stakes attempts at Churchill, bookending a third to Harvey’s Lil Goil in the Regret (G3) with a pair of fourths to Sharing. The Stall filly tuned up with a near-miss in an allowance earlier in the meet. Pass the Plate, another knocking on the door on the Churchill turf, was most recently runner-up in the off-the-turf Mrs. Revere (G2), while Drop a Hint outperformed her 47-1 odds when third in the Sands Point (G2).
Brad Cox has an up-and-comer in Disobedient, a $400,000 daughter of Into Mischief who’s won two straight by a combined 12 1/2 lengths. Timeless Rose was first-past-the-post in Indiana Grand’s Florence Henderson two back, only to be demoted to fourth for interference. Island Hideaway takes a class hike after an Evangeline score for Karl Broberg, and Windracer, His Glory, and Ylikedis all exit useful efforts in defeat.