Now that the gifts have been opened, the meals behind us, and the Christmas tree’s stint soon to end, racing fans turn their attention back to the greatest game in the world. The 26th of December means the same thing every year, the opening day of Santa Anita and the normal return of racing in New York. There are two Grade I stakes races at Santa Anita this afternoon, three graded stakes at Calder and listed stakes at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, and Tampa Bay. Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races across the country:
GRAVESEND – Aqueduct, Race 3, Post Time: 1:24 PM EST
This is undoubtedly a class test for #2 LAYSH LAYSH LAYSH, who has most recently been facing optional claimers, but he was a stakes caliber horse as a 3YO. He’s in career best form right now and loves the inner track so this seems like as good a time as any to test deeper waters. He came from off the pace last time out in a race where the front held together well, so he should definitely appreciate the setup he’ll get today. #6 PASHITO THE CHE is the one to beat on paper as he’s won 3 stakes races in a row in NY, PA, and Fla. He posted Beyer figures of 100+ in each of those wins and he still seems sharp based on his bullet work at Delaware on 12/16. He should be in a stalking position from the outside for Eibar Coa. #1A DIGGER is probably over his head today but he has a pace advantage on the group based on his early speed. He will probably be hard sent right from the get-go and if he can somehow slip away from the field, he could forget to quite. Or simply set things up for his entrymate.
KENNY NOE JR. HANDICAP – Calder, Race 9, Post Time: 3:51 EST
#9 THIS ONES FOR PHIL made a triumphant return to the races last time out at Laurel as he stalked a solid pace, took over and kicked strongly clear against a decent optional claiming field. He now goes 2nd off the long layoff for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr and South Florida happened to be the site of his best performance in the Sunshine Millions Sprint earlier this year. #1 PRINCE JOSHUA is just a different horse on dry tracks as he rebounded from two terrible efforts on sloppy surfaces last time out with a game finish in the Jack Dudley Sprint. The rail draw will force jockey Daniel Coa’s hand today but he has been successful when racing with or on the pace. #6 MOTOVATO is returning off a brief freshening for trainer Marty Wolfson and this horse has done his best work on this racetrack. He was a game second to Mambo Meister in the Spend A Buck back in mid-October and he now cuts back to a sprint of five consecutive routes.
W.L. MCKNIGHT HANDICAP – Calder, Race 10, Post Time: 4:17 EST
#3 WARNING ZONE was just becoming a legitimate turf marathoner in the summer of 2008 when he was injured and has now been away from the race since. He’s in the barn of trainer Marty Wolfson now and horses making their first start for that barn after transferring from another win at a rate of 39%. This guy has been working steadily and should enjoy a terrific pace setup with racing’s version of a kamikaze pilot, #10 PRESIOUS PASSION, in the field. The aforementioned Presious Passion is looking for his third consecutive McKnight Handicap as he returns from a short layoff that followed his gargantuan effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He will obviously do his thing on the front end, but keep tabs on the turf condition as that will dictate whether he starts in this spot. #1 WINCHESTER rallied gamely late in the Sycamore at Keeneland in his last start but came up just short of #9 CLOUDY’S KNIGHT. He has been freshened since and looks like he’s finally found his niche, which is going long on the weeds. His inside post and the guarantee of a hot pace should help his chances.
STAGE DOOR BETTY – Calder, Race 11, 4:43 EST
#1 AURORA LIGHTS is making her first start on dirt as she returns off a brief layoff for trainer Eric Coatrieux. She is a half to four dirt winners including millionaire and multiple graded stakes winner Master Command. She showed potential on the synthetics in Canada and her Valley View effort can be discarded considering she clearly does not care for turf. #2 SWEET REPENT will likely regress off of a tremendous performance in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff here at Calder. She is drawn favorably to stalk the expected hot pace and her latest workout over this quirky strip signals her readiness. #11 JESSICA IS BACK rebounded from a loss to Sweet Repent with a handy win in a money allowance race. She is the speed of the speed in here but will have company on the front end, likely from the filly immediately to her outside. Look for her to stay as long as she can.
SIR BEAUFORT – Santa Anita, Race 7, Post Time: 5:30 PM EST
#5 MASSONE enjoyed a perfect trip along the inside in the Oak Tree Derby last time out but by the time he was in the clear and ready to make a run, the eventual winner, #6 THE USUAL Q.T., was in high gear and long gone. This son of Menifee has been freshened since and gets a rider change to Garrett Gomez, the rider with whom he’s had success on multiple occasions in the past. The aforementioned The Usual Q.T. is a surprise entrant in this Grade III affair, especially given that he proved he’s a Grade I performer last time out. He will be a strong factor in here but might be worth trying to beat a bit based on the hot pace in here and the fact that he’ll have to run from a position he’s not used to this afternoon.
LA BREA – Santa Anita, Race 8, Post Time: 6:00 PM EST
I have very little to base an opinion on in here, a race that looks like it’s up for grabs. #5 EVITA ARGENTINA has run well on this surface and certainly faced stronger company in her last outing. She seems to be a better filly when going 2nd off of layoffs but all of the key components she needs to be successful will be in place today. The pace looks like it’ll be hot and she has been more effective in the past going seven rather than six furlongs. #12 PINKARELLA looked great coming back off a long layoff last time out to crush a N1X field at Hollywood Park. She’s tested for class today and while her two efforts over the Pro-Ride leave something to be desired, she could be sitting on a career best race 2nd off the bench.
Malibu – Santa Anita, Race 9, Post Time: 6:30 PM EST
Is it possible for Mike Smith to sneak away from the outside on #13 M ONE RIFLE? He will meet much less pressure on the front end today and his Damascus effort over this strip was much better than it looks on paper. He gave way grudgingly after setting a very fast pace and now comes back to the site of his best career race, a narrow miss to eventual BC Sprint winner Dancing in Silks in the Cal Cup Sprint. #9 CORONET OF A BARON was away poorly in the Damascus and relegated to the back of the pack in the opening half-mile. He made a good late move and now comes into this affair fresh for trainer Eoin Harty and UAE import jockey Ahmed Ajtebi. He should get a good pace setup with the top pick out there winging early.
Well good luck with the racing across the country on Saturday! I’ll be back later in the weekend to recap what went on and please remember to take a look at our 10 best NY races of 2009!