Playing Santa Anita’s opener a holiday tradition

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TwinSpires Staff

December 26th, 2017

By Dick Powell

The presents were opened. Turkey dinner was finished and the kitchen cleaned up. And now it’s on to the next Holiday tradition; Opening Day of Santa Anita.

This year’s nine-race card is exquisite. I know all the attention rightfully falls on the two stakes headliners: the La Brea Stakes (G1) and Malibu Stakes (G1) going seven furlongs on the dirt for 3yos of both genders.

But the rest of the card might have better wagering opportunities than the stakes races and that is where my bankroll, what’s left after Christmas shopping, will be focused on.

Race one is a 2YO turf event going 1 1/8 miles. Turf racing is sidelined when Los Alamitos gets their place in the southern California racing calendar and the opening of Santa Anita opens the floodgates for turf horses that have been rested up and pointed for lush lawn at the “The Great Race Place.”

The lead is there for anyone that wants it since the race looks devoid of speed. #9 FENGARI raced from off the pace in his well-bet career debut in a downhill turf sprint here last October then came back a month later at Del Mar. From post 11, he pressed a fast pace in second and held that spot until he weakened a bit at the wire.

 Flavien Prat gets off Fengari to stay with RIVER BOYNE, who draws the rail after running second in his American debut at Del Mar for Jeff Mullins. The 3 to 1 morning line favorite draws post one and if he breaks poorly again, he could be shuffled back into traffic.

The horse I will key in the gimmicks will be #7 PALI HIGH. He just missed going two turns at Del Mar in his career debut then he came back 27 days later at Santa Anita and rallied for fourth in fast time in a wide trip from post eleven. The son of SMART STRIKE draws well today and gets Mike Smith back aboard. At 6 to 1 morning line, I will play him in an exacta box wheel: 7 with 1, 9. And, a cold double of #7 with #12.

Race two attracted a full field of 12 juveniles going seven furlongs on the main track. Post position becomes less important with the long run down the backside and I would expect a very fast pace.

#12 CANDY CORNELL draws post 12 for John Shirreffs off a good second in his career debut going six furlongs in fast time. He went off at 65 to 1 that day, indicating that the expectations of him running a big race were pretty low. He breaks from the far outside with Tyler Baze back aboard.

Another contender that went off at long odds in his career debut was #6 DESOLATION SOUND who was able to rally for second here eleven weeks ago going 6 ½ furlongs. Victor Espinoza rides back and John Sadler improves to 14% with his second-time starters.

Of the rest of the ones that have run, #8 BLAME THE RIDER looks to be the best. He dueled for the lead to the stretch in a 5 1/2-furlong dirt sprint in his well-bet career debut. The horse that finished third that day, GREYVITOS, came back to win the $400,000 Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park nine days ago.

Blame the Rider is by good young sire JIMMY CREED, and is out of a stakes-winning dam that won $543K and she has produced seven winners from seven other foals to race.

There are three first-time starters in race two and I like #9 AMERICAN RULE for Bob Baffert. Baffert has been joking lately about needing to run his 2yos since it is very tough to win the Kentucky Derby without any 2YO form. American Rule is sired by BERNARDINI and is out of a dam by GHOSTZAPPER that was stakes-placed and a half-sister to a stakes winner of $840K.

Baffert wins 22% with his debut runners but we have seen monsters like AMERICAN PHAROAH, ARROGATE and DREFONG lose their first starts.  

I am going to key #12 American Rule in straight exactas over #6 Desolation Sound, #8 Blame the Rider and #9 American Rule.