Happy holidays to you and yours from everyone at the Paulick Report! There will be no graded stakes action over the holiday weekend until Monday, Dec. 26, which features four stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Keep in mind that Laurel Park has organized a special nine-race holiday card on Dec. 24, making it the only track in North America to offer live wagering on that date. There will be no racing across the United States on Dec. 25, but Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have cards planned for Christmas Day.
Kicking off Santa Anita's action on Monday, opening day at the Great Race Place, is the G3 San Simeon Handicap. At approximately 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course, the 14-horse field is led by tepid favorite Holy Lute, most recently sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Bettys Bambino will be making his first start in nearly two years, but when last active he recorded four wins in a row at Santa Anita. Richard's Boy will seek his first graded win after a second in the G2 Eddie D this year, and fellow California-bred Acceptance could be dangerous in this spot.
The G1 La Brea is a difficult race for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs on the dirt. Lightstream is the likely favorite with her ultra-consistent record, but she has never raced on the speed-favoring tracks of the west coast. That said, she may get a favorable pace setup, with Enola Gray's trainer Phil D'Amato widely announcing that his filly will be sent from the gate to see how far she can go under Mike Smith. Finley'sluckycharm, Constellation, Coniah and Chao Chom all appear to have early speed as well based on their past performances, so there could be some pretty quick fractions on the front end in this race. Perfect Pic is an interesting play, because she was incredibly game last out in September to be third after pressing the pace. If Santiago Gonzalez can get her to relax off the pace like she did in the race prior, this one may be right there at the end.
Up next is the G1 Malibu Stakes, also at seven furlongs for straight 3-year-olds. The nine-horse field is led by Mind Your Biscuits, a late-flying third in the six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint last out. Ten Blessing is stepping into graded company for the first time, but threw a big number last out for trainer Bob Baffert and can't be overlooked. Sharp Azteca looks likely to set the pace, but may get pressure from Awesome Banner, who has won his last three (including a DQ last out). Mor Spirit will also show up for the first time since the Kentucky Derby for Baffert, and if his lastest half-mile work in :46 1/5 is anything to go by, he should be ready.
Closing out the final leg of the all-graded-stakes, $1 million guaranteed Late Pick Four is the G2 Mathis Bros. Mile, at a mile on the turf. A field of 11 3-year-olds is expected to start, led by Phil D'Amato's Conquest Enforcer, recently purchased for $785,000 at the Keeneland November sale. Frank Conversation appears likeable in this spot, though it may be a bit short. Blackjackcat could also be tough on the drop back in distance if he gets a favorable front-running trip. Defiantly appears an interesting longshot pick, as he lost all shot last out in the Hollywood Derby but appeared to be coming into form for Craig Dollase.
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