Four Graded Stakes Featured on Opening Day at Santa Anita

Critical Stretch as Santa Anita Opens its 83rd Winter-Spring Meet

Four graded stakes including the addition of the $300,000 San Antonio Stakes (G2) should bring out a big crowd at Santa Anita for the opening of the winter-spring meet Tuesday, Dec. 26. The San Antonio is a prep race for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream on Jan. 27.

Race 3 is the 1 1/16 mile San Antonio Stakes, and Hopportunity (5-1) breaks from the rail with Flavian Prat aboard for trainer Bob Baffert. Hopportunity has won the last two editions of the race, but will have to catch the favorite, No. 6 Collected (3-5), another Baffert horse with Mike Smith riding him for the first time. Collected finished 2nd in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Accelerate (5-1) is the other contender, having finished 2nd or 3rd in his last five starts at Santa Anita before winning the San Diego Handicap over Arrogate in July at Del Mar. He finished 9th in his last race in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Race 6 is the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2), the final graded stakes of the year for 3-year-olds on the turf. Big Score (5-2) is the favorite on the outside No. 8 post and the consistent colt tries to snap a 6-race losing streak. He finished 2nd in both the Del Mar Derby (G2) in September and Twilight Derby (G2) at Santa Anita in October, and was 3rd his last race in the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar. Bowie’s Hero (7-2) finished just behind Big Score in those three recent races and should be charging late from off the pace. Colonist (4-1) could connect off a stalking trip while B Squared (5-1) is 2-for-3 on the turf but now faces stronger after taking on state-breds. Kroy (6-1) can’t be discounted from the rail moving up after winning three-straight at Gulfstream July-September.

Race 7 is the opening day co-feature, the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The 7 furlong race with a $300,000 purse is very strong this year with the presence of multiple graded stakes winner Unique Bella (9-5) and two-time Grade 1 queen Paradise Woods (8-5). Those two will take most of the betting action in the 8-horse field, and Unique Bella’s speed and class set her apart winning 4-of-5 starts this year for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. But she faded and caved in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in November, finishing 7th as the favorite. Also fading to 5th in that race was longshot Princess Karen, who is in here at 12-1. Faypien (6-1) offers the best chance at a price to stalk the leaders and make a move to the money and front. He’s off a layoff for Baffert since September, but is 6-for-6 in the money with three wins since his debut in March. The 7/8 mile distance is right for her and rider Van Dyke is a great fit for this style runner.

Race 8 is the $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs, and a pair of shippers stand out with trainer Chad Brown starting Favorable Outcome (3-1) from New York off his career-best Beyer Speed Figure (104) in an allowance win Nov. 26. In from Kentucky is Florida-bred C Z Rocket (7-2), who strides for his fourth straight win since debuting in August for trainer Albert Stall, Jr. He rarely comes West unless he has a talented runner, and C Z Rocket is strong with super action. He tries stakes- company for the first time and had a half-mile bullet over the track Dec. 13 in the morning. Put him in your win wagers and top-2 exacta/trifecta. The wide-open graded stakes feature finale includes the talented Pavel (4-1), a non-factoring 10th in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic but back to sprinting for trainer Doug O’Neill and a good fit in here to regain some of his confident. Irish Freedom (5-1) is a Kentucky-bred colt by Pioneer of the Nile for trainer Bob Baffert who cuts back in distance following a solid 2nd going a mile and one eighth in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes Nov. 25. Don’t count out Dabster (6-1), a talented son of Curlin making his stakes debut for Baffert. He was a $1 million purchase as a 2-year-old in training and has finished 1st in all three starts but was disqualified in his maiden debut over this track a year ago. A solid work tab leading in off his allowance win at Del Mar on Breeders’ Cup opening day.

Special early first post time on Tuesday, Dec. 26 is at 12 noon at ‘The Great Race Place’, Santa Anita Park.

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