2018 Santa Anita Stakes Races Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
As the Breeders' Cup nears, we are treated to one of the great race weekends of the year. Both Santa Anita and Belmont have incredibly-stacked race cards as top horses fight to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup and to prove that they are ready for their best effort on the big day. Santa Anita's opening weekend features four Grade 1 stakes on Saturday, and each one promises to be very good. Here's a look at each:
This race for two-year-old colts was known as the FrontRunner until this year, and in 2014 it was won by its new namesake. There are only five horses entered this year, but it is a heck of a field. American Pharoah's trainer, Bob Baffert, has the favorite in Game Winner (6/5). He is undefeated in two starts, following up a nice maiden win with an upset of now-injured stablemate Roadster in the Del Mar Futurity. He's going around two turns for the first time here, which is always a concern, but he is talented. Baffert is always overbet in California, but he has a contender for sure. His primary competition comes from two Jerry Hollendorfer colts. Gunmetal Gray (9/5) is the only colt in the field who has gone two turns, and he looked very good doing it. He struggled in his debut at a sprint, but the extra distance was to his real advantage. He's a big factor here. And Rowayton (5/2) set the pace in the Del Mar Futurity before giving way and finishing second.
I'll admit a longtime Baffert bias, but that aside Game Winner showed well against a higher level of competition than Rowayton last time. In this small field we'll play a Game Winner - Gunmetal Gray exacta and hope the chalk comes through.
The filly equivalent of the American Pharoah is this race. Songbird won this race in 2015, so quality definitely comes out of this one as well. Baffert, who has won this race a ridiculous 10 times, has two fillies, but they are only the co-third choice at 4/1. The favorite is Bellafina (9/5), a Simon Callaghan filly that won the Del Mar Debutante last time out. She's going two turns for the first time and is running without blinkers after wearing them in both of her career wins. Brill (3/1) is a Hollendorfer filly that cost $1 million as a yearling. She was heavily favored in the Debutante that Bellafina won but was a disappointing fourth. Baffert's Mother Mother (4/1) won her maiden very handily and then dueled early in the Debutante before settling for second. Mike Smith takes over the mount in this one. Der Lu (4/1) is very raw, having only run in, and won dominantly, one maiden race. The breeding is sound, though, and she should be ready for a step up.
Baffert and Smith have been so ridiculously good together lately, so seeing him wind up in this saddle is a real positive. It will hurt the price, but it makes Mother Mother the pick.
This race is for turf mares at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. And to be honest, it's just not that interesting - at least compared to the other three. Hollendorfer's Vasilika (8/5) and Cambodia (9/5) stand out above the crowd, and chances are good one of them will win.
The main event is a Breeders' Cup Classic prep. There are six horses entered, but only two matter. This is a battle between Accelerate (3/5) and West Coast (7/5). The other four horses will only be relevant if those two don't show up. Accelerate is currently the top-rated older horse in the country. He has four graded stakes wins this year, with three coming at Santa Anita and the most recent just down the road at Del Mar in the Pacific Classic. He's a very nice horse and obviously likes the course. But he hasn't raced a horse as good as West Coast. The Baffert trainee hasn't raced since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup and subsequently dealing with injuries. The horse won five straight last year to be named the top three-year-old in the country, but then has been more of a bridesmaid - third behind Gun Runner in the Classic, second behind him again in the Pegasus Invitational, and then the second in Dubai. Notably, Smith hasn't ridden him since his last win and is back on board here. Baffert brings horses off of long breaks better than most, and the rider-trainer duo is dynamite. My biggest concern is that this race is just being used to race West Coast into shape for the Classic and that the result is secondary. But I still am a believer, and he'll be my pick.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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