The weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect in Southern California, sunny, and with temperatures in the low 80s, so the turf will be firm. First post is 5:34 pm EDT.
The best card in the country today, by a large margin, is at Santa Anita Park, where the card is highlighted by three stakes, all on turf: a pair of Grade 1s and a Grade 2. These will be our plays today. The weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect in Southern California, sunny, and with temperatures in the low 80s, so the turf will be firm.
Grade II Monrovia Stakes, 5 /12 furlongs, Turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
The Monrovia drew a field of eight. We spent some time reviewing the results of recent races on the Santa Anita turf course, and it is playing fair: some races have been won on the front end, some have been won by horses coming from far back, and some have been won by horses coming from somewhere in the middle. It is bias-free, and if most of the winners have been coming from off the pace, it is because that is the nature of turf racing. As is so frequently the case on the sod, pace is the primary factor in identifying the likeliest winners: if you expect the early pace to be very fast, bet closers; if you expect the pace to be moderate, bet stalkers; if you think the pace will be slow, bet speed.
We think the pace of the Monrovia is going to be fast, as there are a couple of speedballs in the field. While the pace may not be fast enough for the front-runners to collapse completely and set the table for the deep closers, we think that a runner in midpack early, a few lengths behind the speed, is going to be in an ideal position.
The filly who should be in the garden spot is the favorite, 7-Jolie Olimpica. She is a South American import and Richard Mandella trainee who won her U.S. debut in the Las Cienegas Stakes on January 20, which was at Santa Anita and at today’s distance. She lost her next start, the Grade 2 Buena Vista, when she unexpectedly found herself on the lead, and led into deep stretch, before getting caught and finishing second, a half-length behind the winner. The Buena Vista was at a mile, and today Jolie Olimpica cuts back to 5 ½ furlongs. That distance suits her ideally, and we think she is going to win the Monrovia. We think she’s the best filly in the race, and when the race shape will favor the horse who’s the best anyway, there’s only one thing to do: go to the window. We will bet her to win at 8/5. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 5, $50 to win on 7-Jolie Olimpica.
Grade 1 Shoemaker Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, 3 & Up
The Shoemaker Mile is a great race with a rich history. It’s been run at the Great Race Place since 1938, and since 1988, when the race was moved to the grass, some terrific horses have won it, runners like The Tin Man and Silic. The 2020 field is deep and talented, with eleven going to the post, and one could make a case for any one of the eleven.
The one we are going to make a case for is: 1-Without Parole, a Chad Brown trainee. He is a truly world-class turf horse, a 5-year-old son of top grass sire Frankel who has competed in eight consecutive Grade or Group 1 races, in England, France, Dubait, and the United States. He finished a disappointing eighth in his last start, the Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park on January 25, but that race was at 1 3/16 miles, and as such is probably a bit longer than Without Parole’s best distance. The mile of the Shoemaker fits him the way a hand fits a glove; we think he wins. He should save ground from his inside post, he’s got enough early speed to get decent tactical position, and he’s got a devastating late kick. Look for him to sit mid-pack for the first five furlongs, to start moving on the far turn, and to win going away. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $50 to win on 1-Without Parole.
Grade 1 Gamely Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Like the Shoemaker, the Gamely drew a field of eleven, and also like the Shoemaker, we like a European import starting for Chad Brown: here it’s 1-Etoile, who makes her first North American start after a pretty successful 2019 campaign in France, where she won a Group 3 race, and competed in some of the biggest races on the French calendar, the Prix de l’Opera and the Prix de Diane, both of which are Group 1. She has the look to us of a runner who is going to thrive on firm turf, and we think that she is going to deliver a special performance this afternoon. Look for her to sit toward the rear of the field early, and to go to the front with a thrilling turf on foot down the lane. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 11, $50 to win on 1-Etoile.
That’s all for today. Until next time, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.