Saturday Stakes Preview: In The G2 Santa Monica at Santa Anita, an infuriating handicapping puzzle

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for The Santa Monica| Post Time 4:00 PST Saturday

The Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Monica has a field of nine fillies and mares going seven furlongs on the main track. The favorite on the morning line, at 5-2, is Ben’s Duchess, who won the Grade 3 L. A. Woman two races back.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be Ben’s Duchess. She is followed by Finest City, Lost Bus, and Room for Me. However, Ben’s Duchess’s trainer, John Sadler, has been talking as if he attributes his filly’s recent dull effort in the La Brea to the close-up tactics employed that day. He may well have his rider ride as he did in the L A Woman, when Ben’s Duchess made a sparkling run from well off the pace.

The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 111, belongs to Prize Exhibit.

So far at this meet, there have been 11 races run at seven furlongs. Five of them were won wire to wire, and two more were won by horses who were within 1/2 length of the lead at the opening quarter.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Prize Exhibit (4-1): Twice a Grade 2 winner on turf, today she makes her 21st start, and her first start on dirt. On our speed figures, she is the best horse in the race. And according to our Race Ratings, she is facing significantly easier company today than she has been facing recently. Her dirt breeding, according to our Breeding Ratings, is no worse than her turf breeding. Trainer Jim Cassidy gets a 54 rating going grass to dirt and a 66 rating going first dirt. Prize Exhibit has a talent edge over these, but she figures to be coming from well behind, into a pace that will not be ambitious, at a distance that may not be her best,  over a surface that may well not produce her best effort. Plus she draws a tough post. Much as we respect her talent, we will look elsewhere for the winner if she is going off near her ML odds.

Ben’s Duchess (5-2): 3 for 6 lifetime at Santa Anita, she won a Grade 3 two races back (speed figure of 105), and then seemingly ran an inferior race in the La Brea. However, according to our speed figures (which are adjusted for pace), she actually ran five points faster in the La Brea. As mentioned above, her trainer sounds as if he is going to rate her today. We would rather she be sent to the lead. In any case, we have mixed feelings about Ben’s Duchess. We like her ability to show speed and her improving pattern of speed figures (pointing back at her top of 113), but Ben’s Duchess is the favorite on the ML, and against some of these she has no real advantage on our speed figures. Strong contender, but not the most exciting bet at the likely odds.

Kiss At Midnight (12-1): Baltas filly has won nothing above a bottom-level Cal-bred allowance, and on our speed figures, she has never run fast enough to win a race of this caliber. What is more, Pace Projector has her coming from last place today, against a pace that does not figure to flatter deep closers. On a brighter note, she enters off a performance in which she put in a wide run over a surface that was very much favoring the inside path. She is a threat to hit the bottom of exotics at a big price.

Lost Bus (20-1): She, too, has never run a race that is fast enough to win this. She is way up in class in her third start off the claim. But she does have speed, and there is some sort of chance that she could shake loose early, and then get brave at a giant price.

Tara’s Tango (6-1): Gray filly broke poorly in a minor stake at Santa Anita, then advanced on the good rail and managed to grind her way into 4th. She makes her second start off the layoff today and is proven at the Grade 2 level. She has decent back figures and has run well, without winning, at this racetrack. On occasion she has shown the early speed that we are looking for in this spot. Alas, she has not shown early speed in her last three races. And trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been very cold at this meet. Yes, he won a race on Monday, but that win was with a heavy favorite, and it did not come all that easily. By our count, of his last 23 starters, 21 have been either mediocre or dull. Of course that kind of streak can change quickly. So we would advise monitoring Hollendorfer’s horses on Fridayand the early part of Saturday.

Room for Me (3-1): New York shipper returns to Southern California. She has a superb record at Santa Anita, and her NY form is sharp. She enters off a pair of 113s. She has powerful back figures (though at age six, she may well find them forever out of reach). She has a pleasing stalking style. Pace Projector shows her in the front third of the field early. Knocks? Our two main ones are that we do not love playing northeast-to-southwest shippers in the winter, and we are a little cold on David Jacobson stakes shippers in general. His horses have run decently at this meet so far, but something tempers our enthusiasm. Still, Room for Me is a strong contender.

Living The Life (6-1): Twice a Grade 2 winner on synthetic at Presque Isle, she has not been quite as impressive on dirt. Plus she is another who may be at a pace disadvantage.She has certainly been training fast (which is not necessarily to say well), and her best effort, if replicated on dirt, makes her a threat. But she’ll have to work out a trip.

Kyriaki (12-1): Six-year-old mare is a cut below the best of these on her last two speed figures, and the cutback in distance figures to give her quite a bit of work to do late. She has not run in a dirt sprint since her debut. Getting back to the 110 she ran at Del Mar would be her ticket to contender status today, but it’s a tall order.

Finest City (10-1):

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Has been heading backwards since winning a MSW in impressive fashion at Del Mar. Her last five speed figures read: 116 114 108 105 102. Can she turn it around today? We think her best chance of doing so is to head straight to the early lead and try to clear off. Will she try these tactics? We don’t have the slightest idea. So we’ll give her a puncher’s chance in here at a big price.

The Bottom Line:

Frankly, we find this race infuriating. Seemingly every merit is cancelled out by a demerit. We will call Room for Me the most likely winner (barely, over Ben’s Duchess). The longshot we find most interesting is Finest City.

 

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