Saturday’s running of the Santa Maria Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita, the traditional prep for the $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (GI) next month, drew a compact but talented field of six distaffers for the 1 1/16-mile main track test. With the best recent fillies and mares from the division either retired, yet to return from breaks or too young to contest these events for the older female division, most of these races turn up very light on numbers, yet very long on talent.
This year, the Santa Maria will be run for the 76th time and at the same distance since it switched from seven furlongs in 1957. Among the more notable names on the list of runners to have reached the winner’s circle after a successful performance in the Santa Maria is racing Hall of Famers Gamely, Dark Mirage, Gallant Bloom, Susan’s Girl, Bayakoa, Paseana and Serena’s Song, as well as multiple other Grade I-winning distaffers. Tara’s Tango won last year before going on to capture the Santa Margarita.
The rain that hit Southern California on Friday is expected to linger through Saturday, so there’s a good chance for wet conditions. Expect a softer turf course and a main track downgraded to something other than fast.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s Argentine import Vale Dori was the odds-on winner of her last three races by a combined 15 ¾ lengths and the Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Asiatic Boy was the gate- to-wire winner in the Jan. 14 La Canada Stakes (GII) over a good surface. She will most likely be on or right behind the lead once again and Baffert’s current big-money rider Mike Smith will be back aboard. While the pair will not offer any value at the windows, they are the ones to beat from the far outside post position.
George Krikorian’s Show Stealer was second, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Vale Dori, in the La Canada last out after finishing fourth Bayakoa Handicap (GII) at Los Alamitos on Dec. 3. Trained by Art Sherman and based at Los Alamitos, jockey Tyler Baze is back to ride and with a fast pace expected, Show Stealer will likely be back early and wait for the stretch run to make her move. She’s a solid choice to complete the exacta.
Midnight Toast, who drew the rail, will defend a two-race win streak, both of which came on off tracks in allowance company at Los Alamitos in December and then over the wet Santa Anita main track by 4 ½ lengths in wire-to-wire fashion a month ago. She’s definitely stepping up in class, but she’s risen to her last two challenges in fine fashion and figures to challenge for a top finish here. The Jim Cassidy-trained daughter of Midnight Lute will have regular jockey Jamie Theriot aboard and the pair will surely head straight for the front at the break.
CRK Stable’s Lady Tapit hails from the red-hot Pete Eurton barn, but the bay mare has her work cut out for her. She spent more than a year on the shelf from mid-2014 to mid-2015 after a really poor finish in the Fantasy Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park two years ago and hasn’t really shown the same potential she showed as a promising juvenile. Her second last time out in optional claiming company was a glimpse of her capabilities and if she repeats that performance, she is a good choice for the exotics. A mid-pack runner, she’s going to love the likely quick early pace up front under jockey Mario Gutierrez.
Trevor and Webb’s Autumn Flower was third to the top two in the La Canada in her last start With a couple of exceptions she’s been pretty consistent and is a winner at the track and the distance. Under leading jockey Flavien Prat, she shouldn’t be left off the trifecta ticket.
Sheer Pleasure is a winner in four tries at the distance, but may actually be a longer sprinter and prefer one turn. She does like Santa Anita (10-3-2-1) and is handled by top trainer Phil D’Amato, but she’s probably a smidge below the top choices in here as far as ability goes.
The Santa Maria is Saturday’s fourth race and is expected to leave the gate at 2:00 p.m. PT.