December 2, 2023

Hard Not to Love back sprinting for Santa Monica title defense

Hard Not to Love winning the Santa Monica at Santa Anita (Cecilia Gustavsson/

Santa Monica (G2) — Race 8 (7:00 p.m. ET)

After placing in four of her last five starts, all around two turns, Hard Not to Love will return to what she arguably does best — sprinting — in a title defense of the $200,000 Santa Monica S. (G2) at Santa Anita on Saturday. The seven-furlong dash drew a surprisingly large field of 12 fillies and mares.

Hard Not to Love dominated the 2020 renewal of the Santa Monica, winning by 3 1/2 lengths, but connections pursued longer races for the daughter of Hard Spun for the remainder of the campaign. Although she acquitted herself well in races such as the Beholder Mile (G1), Santa Maria (G2), and Zenyatta (G2), Hard Not to Love failed to win the rest of the season. Nor did her 2021 season opener over a distance prove much better as she finished a distant third in the Jan. 9 La Canada (G3).

Hard Not to Love had preceded her win in last year’s Santa Monica with an upset score in the La Brea (G1), also over seven furlongs. On Saturday, her challengers include the top three finishers in the most renewal of the La Brea, held on Dec. 26. Fair Maiden upset that field at odds of 20-1 by 2 1/4 lengths, with the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Golden Principal and Merneith second and third, respectively.

The 6 1/2-furlong Kalookan Queen S. from Jan. 10 has yielded several starters for the Santa Monica. Qahira prevailed by a length that day over Amuse and Grade 3 turf veteran Biddy Duke. Shortening up in distance is Proud Emma, who captured the Bayakoa (G3) at Los Alamitos two starts back, while Pharoah’s Heart has entered off a swift debut score in maiden/optional claiming company for Mark Glatt.