March 4, 2024

Grade 1 veterans assemble in Joe Hernandez

Hit the Road
Hit the Road and jockey Umberto Rispoli win the Thunder Road Stakes (Benoit Photo)

The final card of racing at Santa Anita for 2022 will kick off at noon (PT) on Saturday with the feature on the nine-race card first up, the $250,000 Joe Hernandez (G2) at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

One of the marquee horses in the field is Grade 1 veteran Smooth Like Strait, but the soon-to-be six-year-old is mired in a losing streak dating to an odds-on score in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) in May 2021. Smooth Like Strait was unplaced in both the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Seabiscuit H. (G2) in his last two.

Hit the Road is making only his second start of the season and his first since finishing eighth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) back in late January. The hot-riding Frankie Dettori picks up the mount on the classy returnee, who won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) last term.

Potentially more formidable on current form and over this unique configuration are the top three finishers from the Oct. 1 Eddie D. (G2): Whatmakessammyrun, Lane Way, and Gregorian Chant. Three-time turf winner Super Ocho was beaten only four lengths last out in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) after setting the pace.

Unplaced twice since upsetting a key renewal of the John C. Mabee (G2) in September, Avenue de France is hoping a step back up in distance will do the trick in the $100,000 Robert J. Frankel (G3) for fillies and mares over nine furlongs on the turf.

After posting a 10-1 win over Going Global and Going to Vegas in that Del Mar fixture, Avenue de France was subsequently fifth in both the Goldikova (G2) and Matriarch (G1). Joining that rival from those races is England’s Rose, who was runner-up in both but is winless since taking the Swingtime S. in October 2021.

Returning from long layoffs are Grade 1 veteran Queen Goddess, last seen finishing second in the Santa Barbara (G3) in May, and Grade 1-placed Closing Remarks, who hasn’t been out since March.

The final stakes of the year is the $100,000 Las Flores (G3), a six-furlong dash for fillies and mares. The field of eight is led by Samurai Charm, who enters off back-to-back stakes wins at Zia Park for trainer Peter Miller.