By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The last weekend of racing in 2017 is a big one with 28
stakes races scheduled to be run across North America, including a trio of
graded stakes events at Santa Anita. The highlight of the day is the $300,000
American Oaks (gr. I), the final Grade 1 race of the year, but the $100,000
Midnight Lute Stakes (gr. III) and the $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr.
III) add further depth to the card. Let's take a quick look at each race....
Oaks (gr. I)
The Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has won more
than twice as many graded stakes races on turf this year (31) than any other
trainer, and he'll have a strong chance to win another when he sends out Rymska and New Money Honey to contest the ten-furlong American Oaks. Both
fillies are accomplished graded stakes winners, and though New Money Honey has
already scored a win over this distance in the Belmont Oaks (gr. I), my
preference is for her lightly-raced stablemate.
Turf races are often won by the horse with the best
turn-of-foot in the homestretch, and it's hard to imagine any filly out-kicking
Rymska in the final furlong of the American Oaks. She's 3-for-3 this year, with
each victory being the result of her tremendous acceleration in the
homestretch, which has carried her from behind fast and slow paces alike to win
the Sweetest Chant Stakes (gr. III), Commonwealth Oaks (gr. III), and Winter
Memories Stakes with exceptional finishing fractions. I think she's the most
Lute Stakes (gr. III)
Although this race has drawn nine starters, on paper
there's not much speed in the race, as most of the entrants do their best
running from off the pace. That could conceivably give an advantage to the
front-running Masochistic, who is by
far the most accomplished horse in the race.
The seven-year-old gelding has been a top-notch sprinter
for several years, scoring a signature victory in the 2015 Triple Bend Stakes
(gr. I) and running second in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) before
being disqualified due to a positive post-race test. But while Masochistic's
reputation ensures that he'll start at a short price, he's only run three times
since August 2016 and has been beaten each time. Furthermore, he's nearly eight
years old now, and the Midnight Lute will mark his first start since May and
his first start since being transferred to the barn of trainer Bob Baffert.
Under the circumstances, I'm tempted to take a shot
against Masochistic with Americanize.
Trained by Simon Callaghan, the speedy son of Concord Point has improved
steadily throughout 2017 and has been particularly impressive in his last three
starts. On October 7th, he won an allowance optional claiming race
over the same track and distance as the Midnight Lute, defeating future Malibu
Stakes (gr. I) winner City of Light by a length while earning a 102 Beyer. On
November 3rd, he scored a gate-to-wire win in the seven-furlong
Damascus Stakes at Del Mar, prevailing by 2 ¼ lengths while posting a 100
Americanize then shipped across the country and stretched
out to a mile to contest the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct, and
though he could only finish fourth, his effort was noteworthy considering that
he dueled hard for the early lead through fast fractions and wasn't badly
beaten against tough competition.
The return to a sprint distance should be perfect for
Americanize, and drawing outside of Masochistic should give him plenty of
options to set or stalk the pace, depending on how much speed Masochistic shows
in his first start off the layoff. From there, I think Americanize will be
tough to beat.
J. Frankel Stakes (gr. III)
Chad Brown trains two of the six starters in this
nine-furlong turf race for fillies and mares, and they could very well be
capable of sweeping the exacta. The most accomplished of the pair, at least in
recent months, is Penjade, who has
rallied to score narrow victories in four of her last five starts, including
the 8.5-furlong Forever Together Stakes last month at Aqueduct.
But on this day, her stablemate Elysea's World might be the one to play. Although she could only
finish fourth in the Forever Together Stakes, she had a troubled trip in that
race and might have won with a clean run. Elysea's World isn't exactly a
winning machine with just three victories from fifteen starts, but she's
consistent and has more than earned her keep while placing in five graded
stakes races this year, including runner-up efforts in the Hillsborough Stakes
(gr. II) and the Canadian Stakes (gr. II). This race looks significantly easier
by comparison, and with the four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier
Castellano in the saddle, I think Elysea's World has found the right spot to
pick up her first graded stakes win.
Now it's your turn!
Who do you like in the weekend graded stakes races at Santa Anita?
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.