The Grade 1, $300,000 Rodeo Drive has a field of 11 fillies and mares going a mile and 1/4 on the grass. The field contains two Grade 1 winners: Christophe Clement’s Hard Not to Like (who won the Diana at Saratoga, the Gamely at Santa Anita, and the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland) and Doug O’Neill’s Sharla Rae (who is fresh off a win in the Del Mar Oaks).
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be Fanticola. She is followed by Famous Alice and Photo Call.
The fastest Late Pace rating in the field, a 118, belongs to Stormy Lucy.
To us, from a betting perspective, the Rodeo Drive is the most interesting of the five Grade 1s that Santa Anita is running on Saturday. The favorite on the morning line, Hard Not to Like, is a six-year-old who is trying to win her third straight Grade 1. In the Gamely, on this course in May, she benefited from a cool-as-they-come ride from Victor Espinoza, who waited and then exploded up the rail when nothing less would do. Then she returned to New York and won the Grade 1 Diana while pairing the 116 figure she received in the Gamely. Both of these victories came in races that received Race Ratings of 120–higher than the preliminary Race Rating (117) for today’s race. In the very best of hands, with Clement training and Espinoza riding, Hard Not to Like is a formidable force at relatively short odds.
However, there is not one horse in this race who we would say is hopeless in here. Contention runs deep. And this spurs us to look for a price.
Three horses interest us most at morning line odds:
Star Act (15-1):
Draws the perfect post for a race that can be very much affected by groundless. Exits a minor stake at Del Mar in which she did not get the best trip. Altering course in mid-stretch, she finished best of all. She will have no trouble with the distance. She has been training extremely well. We think there is a bit more horse here than she has shown in her 14-race career.
Queen of The Sand (8-1): She was a disappointment in the Yellow Ribbon. Although she ran her typical number, she failed to capitalize on the fast pace. We believe that this can be attributed in part to her just running a bit off her best, and in part to an annoying sort of trip that left her without a lot of breathing room at an important juncture. We liked her two previous races from a visual perspective.
Sharla Rae (8-1):
The only three-year-old in today’s field, she benefited from a friendly trip in winning the Del Mar Oaks. However, she earned a speed figure of 122, which gives her the best last-out speed figure in the field by a healthy margin of six points. We are as offended by perfect-trip victories as anyone is, but given that grass is a forgiving surface that produces a lot more immediate pair-ups than dirt does, and given that Sharla Rae is a three-year-old who has raced on turf only five times, we feel that in light of her likely odds today, it would be too clever by half to focus on the Oaks trip to such an extent that we become blinded to the Oaks speed figure.
As always, much will depend on how the odds shape up. We’ll call Star Act our selection at ML odds of 15-1, but our inclination is to look to make win bets on Sharla Rae and/or Star Act , while using both of them, together with Queen of The Sand, up and down in exotic wagers that pay due respect to Hard Not to Like.