Santa Anita, Race 4, 4:30 pm ET
Grade 3 Santa Ysabel, Three-Year-Old Fillies, Mile and 1/16, Dirt
Escape Act had a deceptively difficult trip in her most recent start, which was a grass race and her first attempt at a mile plus. On paper she seemed likely to set the pace, but a sluggish start necessitated a different running style. She ended up falling back to ninth and was duly forced five wide to make a move, but still she finished within half a length in fourth after making eye-catching headway.
Though her last two runs on turf have been promising (won her only start prior to that mentioned above), Speed Figures through her short career so far suggest that Escape Act is just as good on dirt. Her second start earned a Speed Figure of 92, just two shy of what she achieved next time on turf, while her breeding does not suggest a preference for grass over dirt.
Escape Act figures to have the early lead today if her rider (and indeed she) is inclined to take it and, while early speed has not been as effective in recent Santa Anita routes as it has been in meets past, she could be in line for a comfortable trip today. The biggest knock on her- and it is a knock indeed- is that on Speed Figures to date she’ll have to put up a lifetime best to win this race, with Scarlet Strike having a Speed Figure of 98 to her name. This puts Escape Act’s morning line odds of 4/1 into context, but it is not difficult to imagine her floating up a bit from those odds. If she does, she is worth serious consideration.
As for the rest of the field, Heir Kitty and the above-mentioned Scarlet Strike are both worthy fillies and will be bet as such. Another to consider on Speed Figures is Branding, who broke her maiden here last time in visually impressive style around one turn, earning a solid Figure of 93.
Sam Houston, Race 8, 7:00 pm ET
Grade 3 Connally Turf Cup Stakes, Four-Year-Olds and up, Mile and 1/8, Turf
There are more glamorous Grade 3 stakes races being run at more glamorous tracks on Saturday, but the Connally, the feature at Sam Houston over a mile and an eighth, figures to present the best betting opportunity.
The last time Swift Warrior started in the one hole he won a minor stakes race at Saratoga with a 119 Performance Figure, off a 5-month layoff. He’s been less than his best in two starts since, including an ambitious entry in the G1 Shadwell Mile (won by Wise Dan), where he faltered after a poor draw and wide trip.
Swift Warrior ran in the River City last time out and was again the victim of a wide trip. This time he raced wider than any of his other 11 rivals yet was beaten only a length in fourth. Swift Warrior figures to enjoy a more agreeable trip from his inside draw this time and will be tough to beat if able to get back to his level from last summer.
Morning line favorite Willcox Inn is the horse they all have to beat. He has earned back-to-back Speed Figures of 123 and takes a significant drop in class here. He is a must-use horse in any exotic wagers, but the lack of pace in this race coupled with his wide post draw should be enough vulnerability to open the door for Swift Warrior even if Willcox Inn does arrive in good heart after 84 days off.
Finally, longshot Marinous could be worth a look underneath in exotics. This one-time Group 2 winner in France and Arc sixth-place finisher has been bizarrely handled since arriving here in the US. His two starts so far have been on dirt, over a mile and six furlongs respectively- neither race likely to see a middle-distance European horse to best effect! Even if his glory days are long past, Marinous is finally being placed on his appropriate surface and is moving a lot closer to his appropriate distance. Expect a ton of improvement over his two terrible recent figures.