Friday is opening day at Santa Anita Park, with some Breeders Cup qualifying races, serious horses are going to be in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains. Bob Baffert has plenty of very promising two-year-olds in his barn and shows off a few here, including Grade 1 winner Grace Adler in the Chandelier Stakes and the much-talked-about Corniche and Rockefeller in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, the highlight of the first day’s action. There are Breeders’ Cup berths on offer there, as there are for some speedier types in the Speakeasy Stakes, while the reopening of the esoteric Camino Real Hillside turf course adds spice to a competitive renewal of the Eddie D Stakes.

American Pharoah Stakes

A race that revolves around Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has three of the seven runners in a Grade 1 he has won nine times, including with the 2015 Triple Crown winner whose name is given to the race. Friday’s feature at Santa Anita is a win-and-in for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which – at the moment – Baffert has an interest, and an early step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, in which he doesn’t.

The most eye-catching of his trio is the Quality Road colt Corniche, who hinted that he might one day justify his $1.5m price-tag when strolling to victory on his debut at Del Mar. In a field of debutants, over five and a half furlongs, Corniche led at every call and drew off through the stretch to win by four and a quarter lengths, with the runner-up a similar distance clear of the third horse. The time was less than a second outside the track record.

The bare form may not amount to much but the potential is plain to see. “He’s come with a lot of high expectations and high hopes,” jockey Mike Smith told the BloodHorse. “He passed all that with flying colours. He ran a tremendous race.”

It’s probably enough to put him above Rockefeller in the barn pecking order. That colt was also winner of a Del Mar maiden on his debut, also went gate-to-wire to score by an easy two and a half lengths, this time over six furlongs. Comparing him with Corniche is tricky – comparing any one-race-one-win horses is tricky – but there is a buzz about Corniche where there is not about Rockefeller. Young horses will improve at different rates, however, and a second run does not always mirror what was shown the first time.

Baffert’s third runner Flying Drummer, a son of the feted Gun Runner, is a little easier to strike through after defeats on both his starts. Last time out, in yet another Del Mar maiden, this one at a mile, he was on the lead until having no answer to the challenge of Oviatt Class, who cleared away to win by four and a quarter lengths.

Oviatt Class showed improvement for going a mile there – on his previous start he had finished behind Flying Drummer over six furlongs – and he at least will have no issue with this extended distance, although he may be vulnerable to more speed-oriented rivals here.

Joker Boy looked all speed when wiring the field in a black-type over six furlongs at Del Mar and is likely to be the pace angle here. That black-type was restricted to state-breds, though – both his starts have been state-bred affairs – and he carries a question mark into open company first time, something on the mind of trainer Brian Koriner when speaking to the Daily Racing Form. “It’s worth a try, and there is nowhere else to run,” he said. “I don’t know if we have anything to lose. I think he’s pretty good.”

Solid Graded-stakes form is brought to the table by Pappacap and Finneus, youngsters who are already old rivals. In the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar in August, Pappacap was impressive when beating Finneus by four and three-quarter lengths. That form was turned on its head a month later in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity when Finneus finished a length ahead of Pappacap, when they were runner-up and fourth behind the impressive Pinehurst, yet another of Baffert’s star two-year-olds.

What to make of that? Pappacap didn’t get the best of runs early, then got track position before fading in deep stretch. Finneus never landed a blow, coming through late when the race was done. The extra three-sixteenths today may suit Finneus, but both horses look vulnerable to the as-yet-unlimited potential of Corniche and Rockefeller.

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of Jazzsports
CORNICHEMike E. Smith+120
FLYING DRUMMERJohn R. Velazquez+1000
FINNEUSTiago Josue Pereira+1200
OVIATT CLASSKent. J Desormeaux+300
JOKER BOYEdwin A. Maldonado+1500
ROCKEFELLERFlavien Prat+300
PAPPACAPJoe Bravo+800

Betting Prediction for America Pharoah Stakes: Bob Baffert holds all the aces in the American Pharoah, and either of his top two could take this. Slight preference is for CORNICHE given his soaring reputation.

Chandelier Stakes BC qualifying races

The distaff equivalent to the American Pharoah is another habitual target for Baffert, who has won it 11 times including the last two runnings. He will be strongly fancied to make it a dozen wins and the last three straight with the exciting Grace Adler.

The daughter of Curlin won on debut at Del Mar and was then thrown in at the deep end in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs, where she produced an extraordinary display for one so inexperienced. Grace Adler was given a patient ride by Flavien Prat – in the saddle today – but exploded into the race on the turn, making a huge, looping run five wide and careering into the lead. At the top of the stretch the race was already over, and Grace Adler extended her advantage all the way to the wire, coming more than 11 lengths clear of Dance To The Music.

“Bob just told me that she wasn’t as fast as the other fillies but that she’d come running. He was certainly right,” said Prat afterwards, and that certainly suggests Grace Adler will be well suited by the step up to the extended mile here. A performance such as that is impossible to fault, and if Grace Adler really is as good as she looked there she should have no problems down in grade today in this win-and-in for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’.

What reason can there be for thinking Dance To The Music can turn the tables? She was near the pace throughout in the Debutante and was a clear best-of-the-rest, but it’s hard to see where she’ll get a dozen lengths back to flip the form. She’s an obvious candidate to hit the board, though, given her proven Grade 1 credentials.

Trainer Phil D’Amato brings three to the game, the most prominent being Elm Drive, who was a country mile behind Grace Adler when a weary seventh home in the Debutante. For whatever reason, the filly failed to give her running on that occasion, and she is better judged on her previous start in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes over six furlongs at Del Mar, in which she prevailed by a head after a thrilling stretch duel with Eda.

The pair were more than 13 lengths clear of the third horse and on that form Elm Drive could pose a threat to Grace Adler, although Eda was well beaten in the Debutante as well – she was fifth, 18 lengths ahead of Elm Drive – and perhaps the Sorrento form simply isn’t as strong as it first appeared.

D’Amato’s other contenders Ain’t Easy and Desert Dawn are both being pitched into the big league for the first time. Ain’t Easy is unbeaten in one after winning at Del Mar over five and a half furlongs, stretching clear to win by five and a quarter lengths. That was encouraging, but perhaps not as substantial as barnmate Desert Dawn’s comfortable defeat of experienced rivals over the Del Mar mile, when she won clearing away by four and a quarter lengths. Runner-up there was Censorship, who is Baffert’s second-string today and still a maiden after three starts.

Electric Ride is also unbeaten in one and did it impressively over six furlongs at Del Mar, sprinting clear to win by more than eight lengths, although it wasn’t the most competitive of maidens with wide margins between each of the finishers. She is no doubt capable of better, as is Desert Dawn, but Grace Adler sets a very high bar for these inexperienced fillies to overcome.

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of Jazzsports
AIN’T EASYJoel Rosario+250
DANCE TO THE MUSICAbel Cedillo+500
GRACE ADLERFlavien Prat+180
DESERT DAWNRicardo Gonzalez+1500
ELM DRIVEJuan J. Hernandez+800
CENSORSHIPJohn R. Velazquez +1200

Betting Pick for Chandelier Stakes: It is rare that a Grade 1 is won by a wide margin such as in the Del Mar Debutante and GRACE ADLER cannot be opposed in the Chandelier on that showing

Eddie D Stakes Breeders Cup qualifying races

Something different in the Eddie D, with the runners having to negotiate Santa Anita’s Camino Real Hillside turf course, a unique element in US racing. It’s nothing unusual to European eyes, but Stateside it’s pretty unorthodox for a race to begin with a right-handed turn, and then have the field run downhill for a couple of furlongs before rejoining the turf track proper to meet the home straight. It all adds to the gaiety of nations.

In this respect, it might be right up the alley of Whisper Not, who began life on the twists and turns of British tracks, winning at Pontefract – which is practically two miles round, one of the largest racecourses in Europe – before coming to race in California.

The four-year-old has acclimatised nicely, and although he isn’t a Grade 1 runner judged on his last two starts, he won the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields in April, hanging on gamely to score by a head. Whisper Not has never raced at sprint distances, but will appreciate the drop in grade today.

The only mare in the field is Charmaine’s Mia, who is three-for-four at Santa Anita this year, and her upset victory in the Grade 3 Las Cienagas in January over six furlongs gives her strong prospects. She sat on or near the pace throughout on that first start for Phil D’Amato and showed plenty of kick to get the job done by two and half lengths. Twice a Grade 2 winner at a mile since then, Charmaine’s Mia may take some catching given that several of her rivals have earned their best form over further.

That applies to Snapper Sinclair, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile here two years ago, who led at every call over a mile at little Kentucky Downs last time out, winning a black-type by three-quarters of a length. This is a much tougher spot but he does come here in fine form, as does Lieutenant Dan, who has won three of his last four and has all the speed in the world going by his last-time-out victory in the Grade 3 Green Flash at Del Mar, where he made pretty much all and won going away by two and a quarter lengths.

Two and a half lengths back in third there was Gregorian Chant, for whom it was all happening a little too quickly over the flying five given his previous fine form over six furlongs. Between January and April he won three in a row over the Santa Anita six, including the Grade 3 San Simeon when getting up late to strike by a neck. His effort in the Green Flash, off a ten-week break, will have put an edge on him and he gives D’Amato a strong hand in this.

If Law Abidin Citizen can reproduce the form he showed when fourth, beaten only a length behind Dr Schivel, in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby on dirt at Del Mar in July, then he will be a danger to all. He still holds his ability at the age of seven, but seemed not to want the final sixteenth of a mile when fourth in the Grade 3 Daytona here in May over today’s distance on turf. He’s still more likely than Chaos Theory, the 2020 Green Flash winner but not at that level in four outings this year.

Caribou Club, a Grade 3 winner on the Camino Real course on New Year’s Day 2019, hasn’t shone this year and along with Mesut, who has been beaten eight times straight since winning on the Camino Real back in January 2019, no longer appears to have the zip required to figure in this company.

Horse Betting Tip for Eddie D Stakes: Phil D’Amato has two strong contenders for the Eddie D, and GREGORIAN CHANT is the choice back at his best distance on his second start off a ten-week break.

Horse Jockey Odds courtesy of Jazzsports
GREGORIAN CHANTJuan J. Hernandez+400
CARIBOU CLUBDrayden Van Dyke+600
MESUTUmberto Rispoli+1200
CHARMAINE’S MIAFlavien Prat+1000
CHAOS THEORYKent. J Desormeaux +1500
LIEUTENANT DANGeovanni Franco+350
WHISPER NOTJohn R. Velazquez +600

Speakeasy Stakes Breeders Cup qualifying races

Another opportunity to earn a Breeders’ Cup berth, this time in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, and a contest in which neither Bob Baffert nor Phil D’Amato are represented, easing the way for their fellow trainers to take a shot.

Peter Miller takes two, and the prospects for the leader at Del Mar this summer are led by Time To Party, who broke his maiden at the second attempt there when going wire to wire for a comfortable length-and-a-half success. He had tried to do the same on his debut but was collared in the final strides and beaten three-quarters of a length, and with the experience of two runs under his belt looks sure to play the pace card again.

His barnmate Anmer Hall won a similar race on his debut with very different tactics, coming from mid-pack and all out in the final strides to get there by a head. In this stiffer test, with plenty of pace assured, his stalking style may not get him there in time.

Two-time winner One Timer has been winning on a synthetic surface, first at Arlington Park and then at Woodbine, where he carried off a Listed contest by an easy three and three-quarter lengths. This race is stronger, but he hasn’t put a foot wrong and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be as effective on turf.

Another getting turf for the first time is Forbidden Kingdom, who led throughout on his debut over five and a half furlongs on the Del Mar dirt, holding on gamely to win by a half-length. The son of American Pharoah was under consideration for the race that bears his daddy’s name (see above), but trainer Richard Mandella reckoned it an easier option to stay sprinting. Even to have a Grade 1 in mind, though, indicates the esteem in which the colt is held at the Mandella barn, and if he takes to the turf he might take some stopping.

The rest of the field is made up of fillies, with Rock The Belles taking a long walk down in grade after finishing a distant sixth behind Grace Adler in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante last time out.

Successful on her debut in a maiden claimer at Del Mar, she’ll be more at home here but doesn’t look as strong as Miss Alacrity, who is two-for-two, one on dirt, one on turf, the most recent on the weeds at Monmouth Park when the convincing winner of a black-type. Blame It On Rose, winner of two claimers at Del Mar, comes here on the crest of a wave but, like her fellow sorority members, makes no appeal to beat the boys today.

Horse Jockey Odds courtesy of Jazzsports
ROCK THE BELLESEdwin A. Maldonado+2000
ONE TIMERE.T Baird+250
ANMER HALLJoel Rosario+800
FORBIDDEN KINGDOMJuan J. Hernandez +200
MISS ALACRITYJohn R. Velazquez +250
BLAME IT ON ROSEDrayden Van Dyke +2000
TIME TO PARTYFlavien Prat+400

Betting Prediction for Speakeasy Stakes: If he was seriously being considered for the Grade 1 on this card, FORBIDDEN KINGDOM has to be the selection in this much less competitive event.

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