In what shapes up as a truly star-studded affair, Dream Tree, Escape Clause, Marley's Freedom and Paradise Woods headline a field of seven older fillies and mares in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs.
Although she flopped as the 3-5 favorite in the opening day Grade 1 La Brea at the same distance, Bob Baffert's previously undefeated Dream Tree merits top billing as she's joined by stablemate Marley's Freedom, who's been idle since winning a Grade 3, one-turn mile stakes at Aqueduct Dec. 1.
Quite possibly the hardest trying Thoroughbred in training, owner/trainer Don Schnell's Manitoba Canadian-bred Escape Clause, fresh off a romping victory going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade III La Canada Stakes here Jan. 12, will cut back in distance as she bids for her 20th win from 29 career starts.
Paradise Woods, brilliant at three but winless in her last five starts, has been idle since July and will be making her first start for trainer John Shirreffs.
Throw in last year's Santa Monica winner, Selcourt, and this year's renewal indeed has the look of something very special.
Owner: Phoenix Thoroughbred III; Trainer: Bob Baffert
Unbeaten in her first five starts, three of them graded, including the Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos in December, 2017, this 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly was simply off of her game in the Grade 1 La Brea, a race in which she broke a bit slow, was attentive to the pace for a half mile and caved readily to finish last by 25 ½ lengths. With five works to her credit since the La Brea, including a bullet six furlongs in 1:11.60 this past Sunday, look for Dream Tree to bounce back with an “A” performance with Mike Smith up.
Owner/Trainer: Don Schnell
One of the best “feel good” stories in North American racing, she comes off a dominating 5 1/2-length win in the Grade 2 La Canada and cuts back to a distance at which she's a perfect two for two. A winner of eight in a row last year, starting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 8 through Oct. 21 at Centennial Downs, near Calgary, Alberta, this Manitoba-bred has performed with unquestioned distinction in four Southern California starts, which have produced two wins, the first via disqualification in the restricted Kathryn Crosby Stakes at Del Mar Nov. 9 and in the La Canada at Santa Anita. Returned by Schnell to her base at Turf Paradise in Phoenix following the La Canada win, she's had two recorded works heading into the Santa Monica, her most recent a half mile in 47 flat, second fastest of 46, on Feb. 9. A 5-year-old Manitoba-bred by the Unbridled's Song stallion Going Commando, Escape Clause is 28-19-3-3 overall with earnings of $423,500.
Cicero Farms, LLC; Trainer: Bob Baffert
A neck winner of the Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap going a one turn mile at Aqueduct Dec. 1, this 5-year-old Blame mare was off as the 3-5 favorite and has been favored in her last six starts, winning five of them. With Mike Smith apparently opting to ride Dream Tree, Drayden Van Dyke, who has won with three out of his four tries with her, gets the Santa Monica call. An easy 3 1/4-length winner of the Grade 1, seven furlong Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga three starts back on Aug. 25, Marley's freedom is a four-time graded stakes winner and is the leading money earner in the field with $815,935.
Owner: Pam & Martin Wygod & Steven Sarkowsky; Trainer: John Shirreffs
A winner of both the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes at age three, this 5-year-old mare by Union Rags has been idle since well beaten going 1 1/16 miles on turf in the restricted Osunitas Stakes at Del Mar on July 20—her fifth consecutive defeat since taking the Zenyatta in September, 2017. A big question mark by any reckoning, she banked $773,890 with Richard Mandella, but will be making her first start for John Shirreffs, who's been pleased with the way she's trained up to the Santa Monica. With an overall mark of 11-3-2-2 and three consecutive six furlong drills to her credit, including a bullet 1:10.80 drill here on Feb. 8, Paradise Woods appears ready as she'll be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario.
Owner: Medallion Racing & Keith Abrahams; Trainer: John Sadler
A galloping 4 1/2-length winner of last year's Santa Monica, this lightly raced 5-year-old Tiz Wonderful mare was then idle prior to running 12th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. With her next assignment coming as the 1-5 favorite in the ungraded Kalookan Queen Stakes going 6 ½ furlongs here on Jan. 13, she bobbled at the break, dueled for the lead and ended up second, beaten 2 1/4 lengths under regular rider Tyler Baze. With Baze opting to stick with Escape Clause, Selcourt will be handled for the first time by Joe Talamo on Saturday. Bred in Kentucky by Abrahams, Selcourt is 8-4-2-1 and has earnings of $299,160.
GRADE II SANTA MONICA WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 9 of 10 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT
- Paradise Woods—Joel Rosario—120
- Selcourt—Joe Talamo–120
- Marley's Freedom—Drayden Van Dyke—124
- Dream Tree—Mike Smith—124
- Mopotism—Mario Gutierrez—120
- Escape Clause—Tyler Baze–122
- Amuse—Rafael Bejarano—120
First post time for a 10-race card on Saturday is at 12 noon. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
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