By Noel Michaels
It’s Cal Cup Day at Santa Anita, with a quintet of stakes races for state breds on Saturday with purses ranging from $150,000 to $200,000.
Among the races is California’s only Sunshine Millions race, the Filly & Mare Turf Sprint (The other Sunshine Millions races Saturday are at Gulfstream Park).
In addition to showcasing some top state-bred talent, these races will be great for horseplayers to sink their teeth into because many of the features offer handicappers excellent opportunities to beat the favorites and score some big wins.
Let’s make some money!
$150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Sprint (Race 4)
This one kicks off the stakes portion of the program. It’s 6-furlong grass race from the track’s new turf sprint chute that has drawn a nine-horse field. The race appears to be among the most wide-open events on the card, and it could yield some great payoffs because it offers a great shot at beating the top two favorites. #5 Warren’s Showtime (5-2) seems to be entered at a distance too short, and #7 Mo See Cal (3-1) is unproven in turf sprints and wheels back six days since her last start.
The best play at the best value is #9 Nardini (6-1), who just missed in a similar Cal-bred stakes race at Santa Anita two races ago when she was gaining ground at a shorter distance. Yes, she lost to a couple of these same horses last time, but that was a dirt race at Del Mar and this spot offers a great shot at revenge. Joel Rosario picks up the mount for 32% turf sprint trainer Andy Mathis, and this horse is fresh and runs well when rested.
Another horse to use is #1 She’s Devoted (4-1), who has started her career 2-for-2 with the victories separated by 10 months. This is a big step up for this horse, but Flavien Prat sees enough potential to keep the mount, and he forms half of a 38% jockey-trainer combo at Santa Anita along with Richard Baltas. If there’s a big pace in this race, this horse should be flying late. Finally, if there is a hot pace, the culprit likely will be #2 Leggs Galore (4-1). She’ll have her hands full with Mo See Cal on the lead, but she’s 3-for-3 since switching to turf sprints.
The Play: Nardini is enough of a value at 6-1 on the morning line, so go ahead and play her to win. Also box her in the exactas with She’s Devoted and Leggs Galore and key Nardini over both of those horses in the trifectas.
$200,000 California Cup Oaks (Race 6)
This the first of the Cal Cup races, one for 3-year-old fillies going 1 mile on the turf. It drew a field of 10 for what looks like yet another good betting race where the favorite is vulnerable. The morning-line favorite is #6 Closing Remarks (5-2), who won at first asking last summer at Del Mar and has faced open stakes competition in defeat in her last two races. While this move in versus state breds does represent a class drop, she really wasn’t competitive in her stakes tries and you’d want to have seen better from a horse at low odds in this one.
Instead of the chalk, give the nod to #1 Dylans Wild Cat (6-1), who will be making her career turf debut but is well-bred for the grass and gets Flavien Prat aboard for the mount. The field lacks a proven turf route standout, so the door is open for a horse like this to step up and post the upset. She exits a pair of in-the-money finishes in state-bred stakes and should be legged up by now to get the distance.
If not, then perhaps the horse who beat her on the dirt last time at Los Al, #7 Sensible Cat (3-1), will be the horse to beat with Mike Smith aboard. Not only was she victorious in the Soviet Problem Stakes, she also broke her maiden on the turf in the race before at 1-mile on grass where she beat one of her rivals in this race, #4 Warrens Candy Girl (10-1).
The Play: Make two equal wagers: A win bet on Dylans Wild Cat, and an exacta box with Dylans Wild Cat along with Sensible Cat.
$200,000 California Cup Derby (Race 7)
It doesn’t seem like so long ago that California Chrome used this race as a springboard to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning 3-year-old campaign. Will there be another California Chrome-type coming out of this 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds?
Probably not, but in all fairness the jury is still out on #1 The Chosen Vron (8-5), who exits a promising career debut win here on opening weekend and could be any kind for trainer Eric Kruljac with Joel Rosario aboard. The Chosen Vron’s first start came at 6 ½ furlongs and resulted in a big-time 6 ¾-length, wire-to-wire win with a strong 86 Beyer speed figure. Yes, he’s still unproven at a route distance and must handle this stretchout, so that’s a question that exists on a horse who will be a low price. Nevertheless, there just doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the field who can measure up from what we’ve seen so far.
If you had to choose one challenger to knock-off the favorite, or at least complete the exactas, it seems like it would be #7 Positivity (10-1). Positivity got off to a nice beginning with a Santa Anita maiden win last May, and a win in the 5 ½-furlong Graduation Stakes at Del Mar in August followed by a close second at 7 furlongs in Del Mar’s Golden State Juvenile, where he was beaten by #4 Good With People (7-2). However, while Good With People may have distance limitations, the same is not yet proven for Positivity because a terrible start was to blame for compromising his chances last time out in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2). This stretchout attempt back versus state-bred competition looks like much more of a realistic possibility.
The Play: Box the exactas with The Chosen Vron and Positivity.
$200,000 Unusual Heat Turf Classic (Race 8)
The Turf Classic goes at 1 1/8 miles on the grass for 4-year-olds and up, and has drawn a robust field of 11, which should be very competitive. Nonetheless, the horse that could emerge looks like #6 North County Guy (5-1), who moves in versus Cal-breds for the first time in a while. The gelding owns a local win at this distance two races ago sandwiched in-between losses in Grade 2 races at Del Mar, which can be forgiven thanks to today’s drop in against state-bred competition. The recent speed figures all look good, mostly at longer distances, but it is his 1 1/8-mile win on this course on Oct. 8 that stands out and points to him as the one to beat.
The favorite is #8 Acclimate (5-2), who also has a big chance to win and must be used in all exotics. He exits his return race from a year layoff in Del Mar’s Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), where he ran a solid fourth when beaten two lengths by some good horses with a big 101 Beyer speed figure in a field of 12 after leading much of the way at 1 ½ miles. He’s a Grade 2 winner, but the only question is the cutback in distance. If you choose to accentuate the positives, however, take note that this horse owns plenty of speed in longer races, and he did win the last time he ran at 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita in 2019.
The Play: Play North County Guy to win, and box him along with morning-line favorite Acclimate in the exactas.
$150,000 California Cup Sprint (Race 9)
The centerpiece and feature of any solid Cal Cup card, this race is no exception. The 6-furlong dash for 4 year-olds and up drew an 11-horse field filled with contenders. Along with contenders, there’s plenty of early speed.
The horse to beat is defending champion #3 Fashionably Fast (5-2), a four-time Cal-bred stakes winner who also ran a pretty good race last year in Santa Anita’s Triple Bend (G2) at 7 furlongs, where he was beaten 1 ½ lengths in a runner-up effort behind McKinzie. Forgive him for his loss last time in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, and you have a dangerous horse against state-bred rivals. Fashionably Fast is a speedy horse who will face lots of other early speed, but he does not need a clear lead in order to win.
With Fashionably Fast looking tough, and also fast, that spells trouble for the other front-end speed horses, who not only need to deal with him but also with each other. This means #4 Bettor Trip Nick (20-1) and #8 Brickyard Ride (6-1) may get burned out up front. This will give a presser like #6 Loud Mouth (3-1) an excellent chance to pick up the pieces in the exacta or trifecta, possibly along with a stalking horse like #1 Tigre di Slugo (5-1) with Joel Rosario aboard. Tigre Di Slugo has won impressively in his last two dirt sprints, and looks like a horse ready for a stakes breakthrough in what will be his second race back from an eight-month layoff.
The Play: Play a three-horse box in both the exactas and trifectas using Fashionably Fast, Loud Mouth, and Tigre Di Slugo.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.