The turning of the page to the year 2011 means the return of graded stakes to the turf course to Santa Anita after a week filled with a variety of track conditions (fast, good, wet fast). The holiday weekend started on Friday with the running of the Blue Norther and Jack Goodman Stakes on the turf at a mile for the fillies and colts (respectively). Saturday will bring a pair of graded stakes, the Grade 2 Robert J. Frankel S. (formerly the San Gorgonio) at 1m & 1/8th for older females and the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course. Sunday bring the Grade 3 Monrovia Stakes, also at 6 1/2f down the hill, but it is in doubt whether the race will stay on the grass with the threat of rain Saturday night.
Friday's stakes couplet started with the 14th running of the Blue Norther S. for two-year old fillies going a mile. The "biggest" horse to ever win this race is the diminutive Megahertz, who went on to multiple graded stakes victories. The heavy favorite in the race was Tales of Excess (pictured), who was trying a route of ground and the turf for the first time. Wave of Applause was stepping down from the Grade 3 Miesque S. at Hollywood Park for this race. Scantily Clad made her first start in North America for new trainer Doug O'Neill. In the end, Tales of Excess was able to wear down Wave of Applause in the final strides to earn the narrow victory. With her pedigree, a return to the main track is not out of the question. If not, the long-term goal could be the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes on April 9th.
The other half of the couplet was the 16th running of the Eddie Logan for 2yo males at the same distance. (Picture of the field being loaded for the Eddie Logan) Multiple Grade 1 winner Peace Rules is the most well-known past winner of this race. Moment of Weakness dropped out a second place finish in the Grade 3 Generous S. last time out, but was not the favorite. The entry of Robie the Cat and Ten Devils was the 4/5 favorite. Oakcrest Drive was an interesting first-time turf runner. But 5-1 outsider Silver Medallion upset the field, holding off Ten Devils late. By freshman sire Badge of Silver, Silver Medallion looks to have options on the main track or the turf. Maybe a try on dirt is in order, as the turf stakes schedule lacks a graded race on the calendar at the meet.
Saturday's stakes bring a compact field of five for the Grade 2 Robert J Frankel S., with Harmonious looking to be the heavy favorite. This race was renamed for the late trainer, who won this race a record eight times. Harmonious comes off an uncharacteristic off-the-board finish in the BC F&M Turf and looks to redeem herself. She has worked steadily in the interim since that race and looks to be the one to beat. Her main threat comes from the German-bred Eclair De Lune. She is the sentimental pick, as her trainer Ron McAnally was a very close, longtime friend to Frankel. She figures to be sitting just off the pace Spring Style, and could get first jump on Harmonious. It goes as the 3rd race on the card.
The Grade 3 Daytona S. takes the "feature" position on the card, with a field of 7 going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. Morning line favorite Quick Enough looks to have a strong chance, with his good form, his tracking style and his experience on this unique course, hitting the board in all three starts. Dance with Gable is undefeated down the hill, but must deal with the #1 post position, which is the outside post on this course. The size of field will make things a little easier, and his close-up style will help his chances of winning. Sirocco Strike and Regally Ready both made strong appearances in the paddock while schooling on Friday, but neither has ever been down the hill before, which is usually a disadvantage.
Sunday's Grade 3 Monrovia is the female counterpart of the Daytona, but with the inclement weather, it is in serious doubt whether it will be run on the grass or switch to the main track. Its placement on the Sunday card (Race 2) leads to believe that it will not stay on the grass. La Nez was a late scratch out of the La Brea last week, and will probably enjoy the switch to dirt. Evening Jewel looks to make her 4 year old debut in the race, and should be fine on either surface. She is making her first start since finishing 3rd in the BC F&M Sprint.
With the (hopefully all) turf stakes action this weekend at Santa Anita, the stakes action has begun on both surfaces. Several hope to rebound off their Breeders' Cup's efforts, while some hope for their first stakes win, and others enjoy their stakes victories. Let's hope for the rain to be light, the racing to be wide open and the cashing to be plentiful. Maybe the crowd will even let out a "harmonious" cheer. Happy new year everybody!