By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Saturday may have been a slow day in terms of major racing in the U.S., but Memorial Day promises to offer an exceptional afternoon of racing, including a quintet of graded stakes races at tracks across the country. One of the highlights is the $300,000 Gamely Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park, which has drawn a deep and exciting field that looks ripe for an upset. Let’s take a look at who’s running!
Gamely Stakes (gr. I)
||Moulin de Mougin
||9th Thunder Road Stakes (VIDEO)|
||3rd Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||1st Wilshire Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Wilshire Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||7th Prix de Pomone (Fr-II)|
||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||1st Allowance (VIDEO)|
||Hard Not to Like
||3rd Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||Queen of The Sand
||Drayden Van Dyke
||1st Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
A field of ten evenly-matched fillies and mares will line up for this nine-furlong turf race, with the Keeneland shipper Hard Not to Like the morning line favorite at 7-2. She went unbeaten in two starts in 2014, winning an allowance race at Gulfstream and the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. I) in April at Keeneland, but then went to the sidelines for nine months before returning to action in the Endeavour Stakes (gr. III) this January at Tampa Bay Downs, in which she finished first before being disqualified to second for interfering with the runner-up in the homestretch. In her most recent race, she tracked the pace in the 2015 Jenny Wiley over a yielding turf course before tiring in the stretch to finish third, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by the talented Ball Dancing. It was a solid effort given the turf conditions—Hard Not to Like doesn’t seem to care for wet ground—and she must be considered a primary contender for victory, although drawing post nine could set her up for a bit of a wide trip.
Danza Cavallo is the second choice on the morning line, but the French-bred filly has some questions to answer. She has been remarkably consistent, placing first or second in her last seven starts, but her two U.S. efforts have come over yielding turf courses, and it’s hard to say how she will respond to the firm turf she will find at Santa Anita. Additionally, I think nine furlongs might prove to be a bit short for her, and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. doesn’t usually ride at Santa Anita, which could place him at a bit of a disadvantage against the jockeys that are more familiar with the course.
One horse that I do like is Moulin de Mougin, an 8-1 shot that has drawn the rail. Trained by Richard Mandella, Moulin de Mougin stamped herself as a very talented filly last year while winning a couple of allowance races and the nine-furlong John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar. Her season came to an end when she clipped heels and fell in the Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I) in September at Santa Anita, and although she could only finish ninth in her 2015 debut—which came in the one-mile Thunder Road Stakes against colts—I think she’ll be much sharper in her second start off the layoff and will have a big chance tomorrow. Unlike most of her rivals, Moulin de Mougin is thoroughly proven at nine furlongs, having won three of four starts at that distance, and her exceptional turn-of-foot—coupled with an inside draw—should enable her to save plenty of ground before accelerating in the homestretch to take command and hopefully win at a nice price. She is my selection to win.
For the exotics, I would take a close look at Three Hearts and Smoove It. The first-mentioned filly is another that has plenty of experience at nine furlongs, having hit the board in five of her six runs at that distance, and she had a bit of traffic trouble last time out when finishing a close third in the ten-furlong Santa Barbara Handicap. She picks up Gary Stevens as her jockey, which is always a positive, and the inside draw should help her chances as well.
As for Smoove It, she flashed great acceleration in the one-mile Wilshire Stakes (gr. III) last time out to miss winning by just a nose. The distance is a bit of question mark, as most of her recent races have been sprints, but based off her last effort, she warrants respect as a contender to hit the board.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Gamely Stakes?