Santa Anita opens with big card; final G1 of 2019 in Japan highlights weekend horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
A Thread of Blue, seen in the first of three wins at Gulfstream Park this spring, returns as the favorite for Saturday's Tropical Park Derby. Photo by Lauren King,, courtesy of Gulfstream Park
1 of 2 | A Thread of Blue, seen in the first of three wins at Gulfstream Park this spring, returns as the favorite for Saturday's Tropical Park Derby. Photo by Lauren King,, courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Dec. 27 (UPI) -- A massive Saturday card at Santa Anita and the final Grade 1 race of the year in Japan provide a fitting send-off to Thoroughbred horse racing 2010.

There will be no time for nostalgia, though, as the new year gets going immediately next week with the Grade III Sham and the Mucho Macho Man, both for newly turned 3-year-olds on the Jan. 4 card at Gulfstream Park.


But that's a story for another day. This weekend:

Santa Anita

Saturday's already top-shelf program was elevated to new heights when the Dec. 26 card was scrubbed and the stakes races from that day moved back two days to avoid predicted rain.

Maximum Security has sewed up the Eclipse Award as best 3-year-old male of 2019 but the $300,000 Grade I Malibu could impact who else winds up in the top three. The field of six includes Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach, who might have been the Kentucky Derby favorite if he hadn't been ruled out of that race late. He has discovered a new forte sprinting with a victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship and a close second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Roadster finished sixteenth, placed fifteenth, in the Run for the Roses and seems more effective at this 7-furlongs trip. He's trained by Bob Baffert, who also entered Much Better and Manny Wah here -- three/fifths of the field. Complexity, trained by Chad Brown, unleashed a monster 7-furlongs run in his last race at Aqueduct, earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure but so far hasn't handled Grade 1 foes since winning the Grade I Champagne at Belmont in October 2018.


Bellafina returns in the $300,000 Grade I La Brea for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs on the dirt. The Quality Road filly, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks, makes her first start since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Also in the field are the 1-2 finishers from the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland -- Bell's the One and First Star. Bob Baffert sends out the ever-promising Mother Mother for her first run since Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.

The $200,000 Grade II San Antonio at 1 1/16 miles on the main track drew some toughies including last year's winner and this year's Big Cap victor, Gift Box. The 6-year-old son of Twirling Candy has not been seen in the afternoon since finishing fourth in the Grade II Stephen Foster in June in Louisville but has been working forwardly at Santa Anita. Also here: Gray Magician, second in the Grade II UAE Derby in March and more recently winner of three in a row back east; Draft Pick, seeking his fifth straight photo shoot; and Mugaritz, who has won six consecutive starts, mostly on the Golden Gate all-weather.


Lady Prancealot looks to have found a sweet spot in the $300,000 Grade I American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on the grass. The Irish-bred daughter of Sir Prancealot exits a win in the Grade III Valley View at Keeneland's fall gathering and has hit the board in five of six starts at Santa Anita. Giza Goddess tossed in a clunker last time but otherwise has been consistently good since moving to the green course. Eight are entered.

Mirth looks to be the controlling speed in the $100,000 Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the grass. The 4-year-old daughter of Colonel John won the Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita in September, then failed to hold a big lead in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf over the same 1 1/4 miles in November, finishing sixth against much better than she faces here. It doesn't hurt that Mike Smith takes the return call. There's nothing wrong with the other seven but they'd need something to go their way.

Mo Forza won the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita Nov. 2 and won the Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar Nov. 30. There seems no reason the Uncle Mo colt can't make it three in a row in the $200,000 Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile since he's beaten most of the scariest rivals. There are a couple new shooters from England but their record does not evoke major fear at this level.


The $75,000 Eddie Logan for 2-year-olds at 1 Mile on the turf was rescheduled from Friday to Sunday with nine youngsters looking for an early birthday present. Royal Act, an American Pharoah colt, won a first asking Nov. 10 at Del Mar. Smooth Like Strait, by Midnight Lute, and Goliad, a War Front colt, exit a 1-2 finish in the Cecil B. DeMille, also at Del Mar. Air Force Jet, a British-bred son of Charm Spirit, makes his first U.S. start for trainer Doug O'Neill after a disappointing campaign in Ireland for Joseph Patrick O'Brien.

Sunday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes showcases 2-year-old fillies going 1 mile on the turf. Laura's Light was last seen finishing second in the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar. Croughavouke was fourth in that after reporting sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Madame Bourbon was a consistent performer in Florida before winning her first California start at Del Mar last month. Little Bird won on both turf and the all-weather in England earlier in the year for trainer Richard Hannon and now resides in the Richard Baltas barn.

Gulfstream Park


Saturday's card features six stakes, all on the grass, including:

A Thread of Blue is the morning-line favorite for the $75,000 Tropical Park Derby and, all being well, could be a candidate for the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational four weeks thereafter, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. He did, however, draw the outside gate in a field of 14.

The $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks has a tough field indeed with the wild card of former Mexican star filly Leruska. The daughter of Super Saver won six starts in Mexico, then romped against older males in the Dec. 8 Copa Invitacional del Caribe at Gulfstream, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. The Oaks will be the acid test.


Saturday's $100,000 Alex M. Robb Stakes for New York-breds features Mr. Buff as the 3-5 favorite in a field of six. The 5-year-old Friend or Foe gelding won last year's edition of the Robb and, aside from being thumped in graded stakes company, has been a consistent winner on the New York circuit.

Sunday's $100,000 Bay Ridge Stakes for fillies and mares drew seven. Our Super Nova, a 4-year-old filly by Boys At Toscanova, has every chance after finishing third last time out in the Grade III Go For Wand Handicap over the same course. Out of Orbit is the 125-pound heighweight as a result of beating many of these rivals in the Saratoga Dew Stakes upstate in August.


Fair Grounds

Sunday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-old colts and geldings drew a baker's dozen. X Clown and Richard Ronald are the lukewarm morning-line favorites at 7-2 and 9-2, respectively.

Sunday's $100,000 Louisiana Futurity for state-bred 2-year-old fillies has a field of nine with Vacherie Girl the 4-5 favorite on the morning line. The Tapiture miss is 2-for-2, including a 1 1/4-lengths score in the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie two weekends ago.

On the international front:


Saturday's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds on the Nakayama Racecourse turf drew a promising lot, including six colts who enter undefeated. The race, contested at 2,000 meters, is a pointer to next year's Classics and has been won in recent years by such future stars as Rey de Oro and Saturnalia.

Coming in with 2-for-2 records are Wakea, a $1.35 million purchase at the 2017 Select Sale, Contrail, and Weltreisende. Entering off a career-opening win are Diamant Minoru and Galore Creek.

Christophe Lemaire, who rode for Wakea's second race, said that "was a comfortable win and I think he'll be able to race over further. He'll improve more from now."

Contrail, a Deep Impact (JPN) colt, also enters the Hopeful undefeated after two starts. He exits a 5-length win, in stakes-record time, in the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (G3) Nov. 16 at Tokyo. His trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, looks for back-to-back Grade 1 victories after saddling Lys Gracieux to win the Arima Kinen.


Hong Kong

It's not too early to be thinking seriously about the March 22 BMW Hong Kong Derby -- especially not for trainer Tony Cruz. Cruz sent out recent import Private Secretary, a Kingman colt to win his first local start Thursday night at Happy Valley and quickly proclaimed: "He's been my Derby horse from Day One. This is my best chance."

Before arriving in Cruz's stable, Private Secretary posted three wins from six starts in England for trainer John Gosden. The wins included the Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood -- a 2,240-meters event. Cruz turned him back to 1,650 meters for the Happy Valley debut and jockey Vincent Ho got him through a gap on the rail inside the 300-meters mark to win by 1 length from Happy Dragon.

"I was expecting good results," Cruz said. "In the future he'll need further. He'll go up to 2,000 meters. I think he's perfect for the Hong Kong Derby."

Although Hong Kong has assumed a prominent place on the international Group 1 schedule, the Derby, dating back to 1873, remains a prime target for local owners and trainers. Cruz has saddled two winners but none since 2008.


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