By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
On a quiet weekend of racing
in the U.S., the most important event is Saturday's $200,000 Santa Ynez S. (G2) at Santa Anita, an early steppingstone
on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Half a dozen sophomore
fillies are slated to contest the seven-furlong dirt sprint, so let's examine
the field in horse-by-horse fashion and plan out our picks:
#1 Under the Stars (8-5): The runner to beat is the beautifully bred Under the
Stars, a daughter of Pioneerof the Nile (sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner
American Pharoah) out of Untouched Talent (the dam of 2012 Kentucky Derby runner-up
Under the Stars hasn't
missed the trifecta in three starts for hot trainer Bob Baffert, who has gone
9-for-21 (43%) to start the Santa Anita meet. A close third in her debut at
Santa Anita, Under the Stars subsequently finished third in Del Mar's Desi
Arnaz S. (behind future Grade 1 winner Eda) before breaking her maiden by three
lengths at Los Alamitos.
Under the Stars's maiden
score came sprinting six furlongs, but she's bred to thrive running long, so
stretching out over seven furlongs for the Santa Ynez shouldn't be an issue.
Throw in hot jockey Flavien Prat (a 53% winner when teaming up with Baffert
over the last 60 days), and Under the Stars looms as a logical favorite.
#2 Big Shamrock (20-1): After finishing unplaced in her first two starts against
California-bred maiden special weight company, Big Shamrock dropped into a
$50,000 maiden claimer for state-breds and employed tracking tactics to win by
a length. The daughter of Mr. Big showed improved tactical speed in in her
maiden score and could certainly be a pace player, but the competition is much
deeper in the Santa Ynez, and Big Shamrock's Beyer and Brisnet speed figures
look a bit light.
#3 Big Switch (9-5): One
of the key threats to Under the Stars is Big Switch, an undefeated
California-bred conditioned by John Sadler. A rallying debut winner sprinting
six furlongs at Del Mar, Big Switch kept her unbeaten record intact in Del Mar's
seven-furlong Golden State Juvenile S., charging from a couple lengths back to
trounce her pursuers by 2 3/4 lengths.
In terms of Beyer and
Brisnet speed figures, Big Switch has run as fast or faster than Under the
Stars, so a tight matchup could be in the offing. Hot jockey John Velazquez (a
44% winner at Santa Anita) is named to ride, and Big Switch enters off sharp
workouts. But will Big Switch receive enough pace to chase in Saturday's small
field? And can she remain unbeaten while stepping outside the California-bred
ranks for the first time?
#4 Mimajoon (10-1): Speed
is the forte of Mimajoon, who enters off back-to-back pacesetting victories at
Golden Gate Fields. A tenacious triumph sprinting five furlongs on turf preceded
a 1 1/4-length tally in the six-furlong Golden Gate Debutante S. on Tapeta. But
Mimajoon never challenged in her debut on dirt at Emerald Downs, and her Beyer
and Brisnet speed figures look light, so facing Grade 2 competition over the
Santa Anita dirt could be a difficult.
#5 Awake At Midnyte (3-1): If you want to play against the favorites in the Santa
Ynez, Awake At Midnyte deserves your attention. The daughter of 2016 Kentucky
Derby winner Nyquist actually defeated Under the Stars in their mutual debut at
Santa Anita, employing pace-pressing tactics to win a six-furlong maiden
special weight by a neck.
Awake At Midnyte
subsequently showed versatility in the Jimmy Durante S. (G3) racing one mile
over the Del Mar lawn, tracking the pace before rallying late to finish second
by a nose. Returning to dirt should only help Awake At Midnyte, and she has the
tactical speed to be prominent from the outset in the Santa Ynez. Dismiss this
promising Doug O'Neill trainee at your own risk.
#6 Miss Mattie B (5-1):
From a visual perspective, Miss Mattie B was powerful in a Nov. 27 maiden
special weight racing one mile over the Del Mar turf. After settling nearly 10
lengths off the early pace, Miss Mattie B unleashed a sweeping outside rally to
burst past her rivals and dominate by 3 3/4 lengths.
Miss Mattie B finished
quickly in her maiden score, sprinting the final quarter mile in approximately
:23 2/5, but can she repeat the feat while switching to dirt? Her first two
starts sprinting over the main tracks at Indiana Grand and Del Mar yielded
defeats by double-digit margins, so the surface switch and cutback in distance
for the Santa Ynez are two meaningful question marks for Miss Mattie B to
1st: Under the Stars
2nd: Awake At Midnyte
3rd: Big Switch
4th: Miss Mattie B
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Santa Ynez?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.