Hard Not to Like looking for Grade 1 hat trick in Rodeo Drive

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Jen Caldwell

September 24th, 2015

Hard Not to Like brings a pair of Grade 1 victories into Saturday’s $300,000 Rodeo Drive S. (G1) at Santa Anita Park, and a win in the 1 1/4-mile turf contest would not only net her a third straight top level score but also a guaranteed berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) on October 31.

The Rodeo Drive is just one of five Grade 1 contests at Santa Anita on Saturday offering up spots to the Breeders’ Cup via the “Win & You’re In” Challenge, and 11 distaffers will vie for the Filly & Mare Turf berth in the race.

Hard Not to Like will be making her fifth start of the season after taking the Gamely S. (G1) and Diana S. (G1) while placing in the Jenny Wiley S. (G1) and Endeavour S. (G3). The Christophe Clement-trained six-year-old actually won the Endeavour by three parts of a length, but was disqualified to second after coming out late.

The gray mare will be carrying the top weight of 124 pounds, giving five pounds to all but one rival, and most of that will be taken up by jockey Victor Espinoza.

The only other runner not carrying 119 pounds on Saturday will be Sharla Rae. That bay miss will tote 121 pounds, including James Graham, following a three-quarter length triumph in the Del Mar Oaks (G1) at 6-1 odds. Doug O’Neill pupil has a lot to prove in the Rodeo Drive, as the Del Mar Oaks was her first graded win after seven previous tries.

Both Photo Call and Elektrum are also exiting graded scores. The Irish-bred fillies were earning their first stakes wins, and just their second stateside triumphs, in those spots as well. Photo Call captured the Violet S. (G3) on August 29 at Monmouth Park while Elektrum posted a head victory in the John C. Mabee S. (G2) on August 8 at Del Mar.

Queen of the Sand will be looking for a return to the winner’s circle in the Rodeo Drive after dropping her last four. Two of those came as near miss seconds in the John C. Mabee and Royal Heroine S. (G2). The five-year-old chestnut finished seventh in last year’s edition of the Rodeo Drive.

Like Queen of the Sand, Fanticola produced a pair of near miss seconds – in the Gamely and Santa Barbara H. (G3) – but soon after captured the Royal Heroine. The dark bay mare was last seen running just a half-length behind in fourth in the John C. Mabee.

Stormy Lucy faced some of the above runners thanks to a third in the Royal Heroine and close eighth in the John C. Mabee, and will be looking to turn the tables in just her third start of the season.

Santa Anita will kick off the stakes action for Saturday’s program in the 3RD race, the $70,000 Unzip Me S. sending eight fillies and mares about 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course.

Hard Not to Like photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography
Sharla Rae photo courtesy of Benoit Photo