Garrity's Saturday Stakes returns with opening day at Santa Anita and picks for 2 Grade 2s and 3 Grade 1s
Luck Money, who won the Zagora in October at Belmont, is Garrity's choice to win today's American Oaks at Santa Anita.NYRA

Garrity's Saturday Stakes returns with opening day at Santa Anita and picks for 2 Grade 2s and 3 Grade 1s

Garrity's first post is the 4th race at 3:36 pm EST.

It’s the day after Christmas, which means opening day at Santa Anita. And after all that 2020 has taken during this truly awful year, it’s worth noting that this Boxing Day is on a Saturday, which is a gift: it means that the card in Arcadia is about as good as it gets. In addition to the Grade 1 Malibu, Santa Anita’s traditional opening day feature, there are five other stakes on the card, four of them graded, and the races have been scheduled so that both the late Pick 4 and Pick 5 contain nothing but stakes. If opening day of the marathon Santa Anita winter/spring meeting signifies the start of a new year in the world of horse racing -- and we think it does -- then this is a terrific way to kick it off.

We are going to play five of the stakes. The weather will be perfect in Arcadia, and the main track fast and the dirt firm. Let’s go.

Santa Anita, Race 4, 3:36 pm ET
Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, 1 mile, Turf, 3-Year-Olds

The first stakes race of the meeting, the Mathis Brothers Mile on turf, drew a field of seven 3-year-old colts. We’re going with an angle that has served us well of late: Southern California turf horses are weak, as a group, so the pick is 6-Field Pass, an East Coast shipper who starts for trainer Mike Maker. Field Pass won the Ontario Derby at Woodbine on Nov. 21 in his last start, and while that race was on a synthetic surface, he’s done most of his running on grass, where he has fared quite well, with five wins and eight in-the-money finishes in ten career turf starts. Put bluntly: we think he’s better than the locally-based runners, and we also think the pace will favor him, as he’s a stretch runner in a race that looks to have a quick early pace. We very much doubt that Field Pass will be his 5/2 morning line odds at post time, but we will bet him to win anyway. Look for him to sit mid-pack, and blow this group away with a strong late move. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 4, $40 to win on 6-Field Pass.

Santa Anita, Race 7, 5:09 pm ET
Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3 & Up

Eight horses line up for the San Antonio, and it’s a corker of a race, with a deep and talented field. The main question a handicapper must address among the group is what to do with 8-Mucho Gusto, a Bob Baffert trainee who appears to be the fastest horse, but who has been away for a long time, having last run in the Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia in February, where he finished fourth. Will he be ready to fire coming off such a long layoff?
We think the answer is yes: we think the long vacation is actually a positive sign, as Baffert appears to have given him enough time to recover from the long and grueling trip to the Middle East. He’s been running a hole in the wind in his recent morning workouts, so he looks fit, and if he’s ready, he’s simply better than the other horses running against him. Look for him to press the pace from his outside post, and to blow the San Antonio open with a big move at the top of the stretch. We will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $40 to win on 8-Mucho Gusto.

Santa Anita, Race 8, 5:43 pm ET

Grade 1 La Brea Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

This is probably the best betting race on the card at Santa Anita today, with eleven evenly matched sophomore fillies lining up to sprint 7 furlongs. We like 4-Secret Keeper, who starts for trainer Cliff Sise. Her last race was a disaster: She stumbled at the start of the Raven Run at Keeneland, losing any chance she may have had to win, but we are willing to draw a line through that one, and if she can run back to her prior form, she looms a major threat. She has speed, and while she will not get the early lead, we think she will win the La Brea with a pace-pressing trip from her inside post. We will bet her to win at morning line odds of 6-1 that we consider very, very generous. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Secret Keeper.

Santa Anita, Race 9, 6:17 pm ET
Grade 1 American Oaks, 1 ¼ miles, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies

A field of ten 3-year-old fillies will run a mile and a quarter in the American Oaks, and -- you guessed it -- we like an East Coast shipper to beat the local horses and win the race. It’s 5-Luck Money, an admirably consistent Arnaud Delacour trainee who has ten career starts, all on turf, and who has hit the board in all of them, winning three. It took her a while to become a winner, not breaking her maiden until her sixth career start, but since then, she’s won two of four, including an impressive score in the Zagora Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 31. She looks like a late bloomer to us, and these kinds of horses are very, very dangerous at this time of year. Look for her to sit mid-pack, and to be moving late; we will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet; Santa Anita, Race 9, $40 to win on 5-Luck Money.

Santa Anita, Race 10, 6:51 pm ET
Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Malibu is always a good race, but this is the strongest and best field for it that we can remember seeing. All eyes will be on 6/5 morning line favorite 3-Nashville, an undefeated colt from the Steve Asmussen barn. He’s won all three of his starts by virtue of his blazing early speed, and while he looks to be a lock to get the lead here -- he is as fast as any horse in training in North American right now -- he has never run this far before, and he has never faced a group this tough before. In his last race, a win on the Breeders Cup undercard at Keeneland on Nov. 7, he finished in front of two horses, Wild Wes and Little Menace, who have yet to win a single graded stakes race; the other five runners in the Malibu, by contrast, have seven graded stakes wins, including two Grade 1s. Nashville may be a freak, but he’ll have to be to win here, as it’s a very, very tough group.

We like 4-Charlatan, who starts for Bob Baffert. He was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby this year, until an ankle injury forced him to miss the entire Triple Crown series. He’s fast enough to stay reasonably close to the early pace, and that, plus the fact that he drew outside of Nashville, should put him in a perfect stalking spot through the first half-mile. After that, it’s just a question of who’s the best horse, and we think the answer to that is Charlatan. We think Charlatan wins the Malibu going away, and will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 10, $50 to win on 4-Charlatan.

That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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