Best in the West – Saturday Showcase at Santa Anita

Saturday Showcase Features Favorites Mor Spirit and Songbird

The Saturday showcase at Santa Anita will feature some of the best 3-year olds in the west. Let’s go ladies first on the February 6 card with race 5 in the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G3) for 3-year old fillies at one mile. SONGBIRD will go off as the heavy favorite. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer with jockey Mike Smith aboard, Eclipse award winner Songbird is undefeated in four starts. She is the class of the field and the clear speed in a field without any one-way speed. JADE PRINCESS could be forwardly placed early, but figures to finish up the track while SHE’S A WARRIOR is one to consider in the exotics with form over the course and working well with speed to contend. STREET FANCY is also training well and broke her maiden at this track. She went well in winning at two turns at the Starlet (G1) last time out.  The Road to the Kentucky Oaks awards points (10-4-2-1) to its top four finishers.

Race 4 is the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) for three year olds at 1 1/16 miles. Bob Baffert trained MOR SPIRIT is the one to beat. “He has a lot of tactical speed but you can’t let him use it too early. “We’re teaching him to sit and wait. He’s a big horse and beautifully made. He’s got a really long stride. He’ll be best going a mile and an eighth and further.”

Mor Spirit makes his first start since his impressive win over stablemate Toews on Ice in the Grade l Los Alamitos Futurity December 19. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will be aboard. Mor Spirit finished second behind Airoforce in a live renewal of the Kentucky Jockey Club (GI).  LET’S MEET IN RIO is improving and working well and offers an attractive price pick. He was a fast-closing second as the Baffert B in the Sham last out.

I WILL SCORE is perhaps the most attractive of the rest and ranks as the speed of the speed. He has shown the ability to survive a contentious pace, and win even after being headed.  I Will Score stretches out for the first time but should have little trouble getting the distance. Both UNCLE LINO and LAOBAN have also shown speed, and should ensure honest early fractions. Laoban remains a maiden and ran third in the Sham.

Mohaymen is ready for 2016 Holy Bull Stakes

Mohaymen Ready for 2016 Holy Bull Stakes

The 2016 Holy Bull Stakes cracks its gates open next weekend on January 30th, and all eyes will be focused on Mohaymen. The three-year old son of Tapit is undefeated in three races, having won the Remsen and the Nashua at the end of 2014. He is also the second favourite amongst Triple Crown hopefuls this coming season, ranking just behind the front running Nyquist.

Two weeks ago, Mohaymen ran like he was shot out of a canon, covering five furlongs in just 0:59 2/5 which brought some excitement from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.  “It’s very exciting. He’s training great and done everything right. He works well every time and comes back, and doesn’t blow out a match…We know he can handle most things thrown at him at this stage. We just hope we have a good trip and a clean trip.”

It certainly seems like the winner of the Gulfstream main event next weekend is a given, and excitement for Mohaymen continues to rise as we march down the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Conquest Big E might stand as the biggest threat to Mohaymen at the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes. His disappointing 8th place finish at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile notwithstanding, the highly rated Conquest Stables product topped the podium at an impressive allowance hosted by Churchill Downs to finish his 2015 campaign. He ran a mile in 1:37.62.

Greenpointcrusader also remains an intriguing entry. He placed 7th at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile just after winning the one-mile Champagne (GR1) with a time of 1:36.25. This will be Greepointcrusader’s first race at Gulfstream and he remains, quite literally, a dark horse in the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes.

Fellowship will also compete at the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes with the hopes of generating the same buzz he had at the tail of 2015.  The Stanley Gold trainee finished first in a Gulfstream maiden while placing second at the Birdonthewire and another allowance at Gulfstream West. He also finished a respectable 5th at the Mucho Macho Man Stakes to start his sophomore season.

Perfect Saint and Frontier Ranger are also projected to race in the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes, but nobody feels more important than Mohaymen. Truth be told, running this race just seems like a formality. Everyone just wants to see how fast McLaughlin’s star truly is as a three-year old.

The 2016 Holy Bull Stakes is a 1 1/16 mile race on dirt at Gulfstream Park, scheduled for January 30th. It offers a purse of $350,000.

No Doubt Mohaymen Ready for Holy Bull Stakes

Undefeated graded stakes victor Mohaymen out of Shadwell stable made it known he’s ready for the January 30th running of the South Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park with a sharp final training session.

In yesterday’s work, under rider Miguel Jaime, Mohaymen coasted through five furlongs in a time of :59 1/5. If that time is a preview of things to come his 2016 debut could lead to another victory lap.

“He worked great and he continues to do well,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “That was a really nice work. We’re a little more than a week away, and we’re all excited.”

Since arriving in South Florida earlier last month, Mohaymen has gone to the track for four separate practice runs. His previous sessions were of the half-mile variety, running :49 2/5 on December 31st and :47 3/5 on January 8th. He moved up to a mile on January 14th, doing so in a time of 1:01.

“I wanted him to go (a half-mile) in :48 and he went in :47,” said McLaughlin. “It was a little quicker, but he is just doing so well. He did it all on his own and he doesn’t blow at all coming back. He cools out so quickly. We’re all set. All systems are go.”

The Holy Bull Stakes is part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” scoreboard and the winner will receive ten points. Second place gets four, third is awarded two points, and the fourth place finisher is given one point. Mohaymen currently has ten points.

Santa Monica Stakes favourite Ben's Duchess

Santa Monica Stakes Led By Ben’s Duchess

The race with the biggest purse this weekend is the Santa Monica Stakes. The 7-furlong sprint is open to older fillies and mares, offering a purse of $200,000 as a GR2 stakes race. The dirt track at Santa Anita Park has served as the host of the Santa Monica Stakes since 1957.

The nine-horse field will be led by Ben’s Duchess who will head in to the Santa Monica Stakes boasting the most interest since she’s posted impressive times at this racing distance before. The John Sadler trainee ran an incredible 1:20.38 at the Angel’s Flight, finishing third, and 1:23.31 in the La Brea (GR1) while finishing 6th.  The winning time for the last three renewals of this race has posted a winning time of 1:22+.

In fact, the last two winners have been trained by Jerry Hollendorfer who will submit Tiara’s Tango this weekend. Sired by Unbridled’s Song, the four-year old filly will drop down to the sprint category after turbulent runs at longer distances. Tiara’s Tango finished 10th at the Cotillion (GR1) but also placed second at the Summertime Oaks (GR2), both of which run at 1 1/16 miles. Interestingly enough, she’s bested Ben’s Duchess twice in sprints, placing second at the Angel’s Flight and and the Santa Paula. Hollendorfer’s recent history of wins at this race will undoubtedly generate intrigue with Tiara’s Tango at the Santa Monica Stakes.

The main issue for Tiara’s Tango is that her last two outings have seem uninspired and there’s a feeling around the track that she’s beginning to lose her competitive spark. So I wouldn’t automatically slip her in to the win just yet, though she’s performed better at sprints. There is a chance that competing against an old rival like Ben’s Duchess will bring out the best in her.

James Cassidy’s Prize Exhibit is another four-year old filly who is one to keep your eyes on. She blitzed the Monrovia Stakes (GR2) at a distance of 6 1/2 furlongs earlier this month and also placed a respectable 6th at the Matriarch Stakes (GR1) in late November last season. This will be her first race on dirt.

Room For Me and Living The Life head to Santa Anita with the most wins in the field, with each touting 9 apiece. The six-year old Room For Me recently showed third at the Interborough, while winning the Garland of Roses at Aquaduct last December. Gary Mandella’s Living The Life is also six years old this season and has been erratic at all distances. She placed 6th at the Goldikova Stakes after winning the Presque Isle Masters (GR2).

Lost Bus, Kiss at Midnight, Kyriaki and Finest City round out the order for the Santa Monica Stakes.


La Canada Stakes Highlights Santa Anita Saturday

Handicap and Preview of the La Canada Stakes

The $200,000 La Canada Stakes (G2) highlights the 9-race card at Santa Anita Park January 16. Seven older fillies and mares will go a mile and 1/16 and YAHILWA has been pointing to this race and appears poised to make her 2016 debut a winner. Mike Smith takes the reigns and Yahilwa has the tactical speed to court the leaders, and her speed to finish third by a neck on October 4 in the Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland may be good enough to overtake TARIS and hold off BIRDATTHEWIRE, who Smith road and rallied from worst to first to win by a half-length at the La Brea Stakes (G1) on December 26.

Birdatthewire will be closing hard as she did that day as a 10-1 shot, and she’s 2-for-2 at seven furlongs. The Kentucky bred daughter of Summer Bird likes to run out, and if improvement continues then first-time rider Drayden Van Dyke will be riding her to victory.

TARIS is a solid threat and will be on the lead up front with Gary Stevens aboard. The winner of the Go For Wand (G3) at Aqueduct November 27 returns to her home base with six in the money finishes in 10 lifetime starts. TARIS was the 4-5 favorite that day and drifted five wide into upper stretch before rallying to take command at the eighth pole. The 5-year old mare went 6 ½ furlongs to finish 3rd in a Grade 3 for fillies at Santa Anita Park on October 4.

Taris will duel with TARA’S TANGO, who has been off since September but had three straight runner-up finishes at Santa Anita last year including the Summertime Oaks (G2) at this distance.

Gulfstream Park hosts the Sunshine Millions Turf

Sunshine Millions Turf Continues At Gulfstream

The Sunshine Millions Turf will run at Gulfstream Park this season, meaning that only Florida-bred horses will be eligible. This ungraded stakes race is a 1 1/16 mile haul for 4+ year old males, and offers a rewarding purse of $150,000. It’s a great opportunity for handicappers to get a grip on some of the lesser known runners out there.

Leading the charge from the posts will be Chad C. Brown’s Fundamental, who is still searching for his first win. A second place finish at the Commonwealth Derby (GR2) showed promise for the now four-year old colt in the fall portion of the 2015 season, but he tapered off throughout the later parts of the year. Fundamental placed 5th at the Bryan Station Stakes and 4th at the Hollywood Derby (GR1).

Brown has already picked up two wins as a trainer this season at a pair of grade-three stakes races. Flexibility clobbered the field at the Jerome Stakes and Life Imitates Art won the Dania Beach Stakes. He’s hoping that Fundamental will start to show the promise he once did back in September.

Rizwan looks to be one of the main challengers to star in the winner’s circle this weekend, and his experience at this track will certainly play a factor. The Florida mainstay ran 11 races in Florida last season, and 10 of those were at Gulfstream Park. Rizwan picked up victories at a February allowance and The English Channel and his overall experience will draw some action his way, despite drawing the inside post.

Old Time Hockey will also run at the Sunshine Millions Turf. Now a seven-year old, the son of Smarty Jones has been a star within the lower tiers. He bested One Step Salsa and Rizwan at a turf allowance last November, and is a favourite amongst Florida bettors. He picked up a win at the Turf Classic Stakes in Tampa after placing second in the Tampa Bay Stakes and the Challenger Stakes.

Reporting Star, who is known to travel north of the border to compete at Woodbine, will snowbird down in Florida as well. He finished fourth in the aforementioned turf allowance that Old Time Hockey won, and will look to secure his first victory since last August when the Play The King (GR2). Reporting Star is more of a sprinter than a long distance challenger, so it might be best to stray away from him at the Sunshine Millions Turf.

There’s good reason to at least keep track of the Sunshine Millions Turf results when the race runs this Saturday, January 16th. It’s an easy way to get a lead on a class of older horses that run in a popular circuit of stakes races down in the Sunshine State.


Mohaymen will run at the Holly Bull Stakes at Gulfstream

Mohaymen Breezing For Holly Bull Stakes

Mohaymen stands as one of the early favourites for the 2016 Triple Crown circuit, and will look to begin his march towards the spring gauntlet at the Holly Bull Stakes.

The Holly Bull Stakes is a GR2 grind run over 1 1/16 mile on Gulfstream Park’s dirt track, offering a purse of $400,000. This year’s event will run on January 30th as part of The Road to the Kentucky Derby with a 10-4-2-1 points split awarded to the top-four finishers.

Mohaymen has been unbeatable in his three starts as a juvenile, winning a maiden at Belmont Park in September before smashing the competition at the Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct. In both of those GR2 races, Moyahmen bested Flexibility who recently won the Jerome to start his journey to the Triple Crown circuit.

Kiaran McLaughlin seems thrilled with Mohyamen's prep for the Holly Bull Stakes
Kiaran McLaughlin seems thrilled with Mohyamen’s prep for the Holly Bull Stakes

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is a big fan of the Holly Bull Stakes, a race he won in 2014 with Cairo Prince. “He was great and happy,” McLaughlin noted during Moyahmen’s breezing runs at Palm Meadows Training Center. “He might skip a work but he’s going to probably work weekly and point for the race at the end of the month.”

The results of this race will have a big impact on how handicappers continue to play the Kentucky Derby Futures Wager as well. Mohaymen ended the first pool of betting as the second favourite at 11/1. He stands behind Nyquist, who earned 9/1 odds to win the Kentucky Derby, and will begin his 2016 season at the San Vicente on February 15th. The next window for wagering on KDFW will be February 12th thru 14th.

The field for the 2016 Holly Bull Stakes is still in the process of being declared, but Mohaymen will enter as the odds on favourite.

The most famous winner of the Holly Bull Stakes is Barbaro, who would also go on to win the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Barbaro is remembered in Preakness Stakes history for breaking his leg in 20 places at the end of the race. If not for the quick thinking of jockey Edgar Prado, Barbaro’s life would’ve ended there. The 2006 Holly Bull Stakes winner is honoured on Preakness Day with the Barbaro Stakes.


Bob Baffert Discusses the Futurity

The Los Alamitos Futurity, scheduled to run on December 19, has gone through numerous name changes over the years. The initial moniker for the final West Coast grade I race for two-year-olds was the Hollywood Futurity back in 1981. Once it became sponsored by CashCall Company its name changed to the CashCall Futurity. That lasted until the fall of Hollywood Park.

While the name may have changed over the years, the level of competition has not, as the event has been won by a wide range of notable trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Ron McNally, to name a few. There is one man who has staked claimed to the Futurity more than any other, and that man happens to be Bob Baffert, who has been a part of seven Futurity winning teams.

Baffert has become accustomed to name changes when it comes to the Futurity, and another possible change could be in the works, with the Los Alamitos Futurity in danger of yet another relocation and rebranding.

Baffert, on the hunt for his eighth Futurity crown via Toews On Ice and Mor Spirit, believes “the timing of the race is important,” and he “would hate to lose it on the calendar.” According to Baffert, “Very good horses run in it and come out of it to do big things. This race starts you thinking about the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).”

The Futurity has become known as the race that showcases which horses can navigate two turns and those better suited to veer off the Triple Crown trail. “With a lot of horses, you don’t know if they want to go long,” said Baffert. “They can all go long if they go slow enough, but under pressure you don’t know how far they’ll go until they run in a race like this.”

Baffert will use the Futurity as a measure to determine which of his two horses has a legitimate shot at going the Derby trail distance.