It’s high-quality G1 action all the way at Santa Anita on Monday, with usual suspect Bob Baffert having a lock on the Hollywood Gold Cup with previous winner Country Grammer and Defunded, Phil D’Amato similarly dominant in the Shoemaker Mile thanks to Gold Phoenix, Hong Kong Harry and Balnikhov, and a well-matched group of distaffers including Queen Goddess and Viareggio going head-to-head in the Gamely.
Hollywood Gold Cup
G1, $400,000, 1m 2f dirt, 3yo+, 4.44pm PT
Monday’s Memorial Day meeting at Santa Anita is headlined by the historic and evocative Hollywood Gold Cup, won by many all-time greats and by Bob Baffert a joint-record eight times, and the way the race shakes down it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t have the record all to himself on Monday night.
Baffert has the two market leaders in a short field and one of them already has this race on his roll of honor, Country Grammer (8-5) being brave to get up late and win by a head in 2021. The six-year-old has become a global money-spinner since then, bankrolling almost $15 million – putting him fifth on the US all-time list – thanks to success in last year’s G1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan and two ‘place’ performances in the G1 Saudi Cup.
All well and good, but Country Grammer comes here off probably the worst run of his life, a one-paced no-show seventh in the Dubai World Cup as a favorite. However, a post-race vet check-up revealed mucus in his windpipe that likely affected his performance, and he should be back in the groove off two months’ rest.
The danger – probably the only danger – is his barnmate Defunded (4-5), who has stayed closer to home and run up a string of high-quality performances. He was runner-up in the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, third in the G1 Big ‘Cap over course and distance, and then a romping winner of the G2 Californian back here over a mile-eighth, with Kiss Today Goodbye (12-1), who hasn’t won since December 2020 and usually misses the board at Graded level, fourth beaten four and a half lengths.
Defunded showed tactical versatility there after blowing the start, coming from the back for once, but he is almost certain to be in his normal place on the lead like he was in this race last year when he was run down late and beaten a length into second spot. He’s probably better at a mile-eighth but is pretty effective at today’s distance.
That’s one thing we don’t know about Senor Buscador (5-1), who stretches out for the first time after building a career at around a mile, including a victory in the G3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs. He went longer last time in the mile-eighth G2 Oaklawn at the Arkansas track but it didn’t look a good fit, a mild stretch rally taking him into fourth without suggesting he wanted to stretch out again.
His form at shorter distances doesn’t match the Baffert principles, so this journey into unknown territory will have to make a major difference; doubtful.
Stakes debutant Piroli (15-1) coughed up a three-race winning streak over a mile in minor company when third in an allowance here two weeks ago, and is way out of his depth along with Yes This Time (15-1), who is riding a 12-race losing streak since winning the G3 Kent at Delaware Park in July 2021. Not this time, either.
2023 Hollywood Gold Cup Odds
Prediction The 2021 winner COUNTRY GRAMMER had a medical reason for his poor run last time; that’s easy to forgive and he can bounce back with conditions in his favor.
|HORSE||JOCKEY||ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS|
|Country Grammer||Flavien Prat||+160|
|Senor Buscador||Luis Saez||+500|
|Yes This Time||Kazushi Kimura||+1500|
|Defunded||Juan J. Hernandez||-125|
|Piroli||Kent J. Desormeaux||+1500|
|Kiss Today Goodbye||Hector Isaac Berrios||+1200|
Shoemaker Mile Stakes
G1, $500,000, 1m turf, 3yo+, 4.13pm PT
A big field of old rivals with plenty of tangled formlines comes together for the Shoemaker Mile, the first US-based win-and-in qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup here in November, and trainer Phil D’Amato is looking at a handful of aces as he bids for a record-extending fifth win in the race.
He has three of the top four on the morning line, with Hong Kong Harry (7-2) narrowly favored despite lacking a victory this year, although his five-for-six record in 2022 is a good illustration of his abundant talent.
The step up to G1s has left him a little short so far, but he turned in a perfectly good effort when runner-up in the mile-eighth Turf Classic at Churchill Downs three weeks ago, a distinct improvement on his fourth place in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile over course and distance on his first start of the year. He’s moving through the gears and should be near his peak now.
The Kilroe Mile went to his barnmate Gold Phoenix (4-1), who rallied hard from mid-pack to beat fellow late closer Du Jour (6-1) by a neck, with longshot Cabo Spirit (15-1) three-quarters of a length further back in third and Balnikhov (5-1) a weary, no-show seventh of eight. Gold Phoenix might appreciate the return to a mile after a spell in routes and a dull effort in the ten-furlong G2 Charles Whittingham here on his most recent start.
Balnikhov is D’Amato’s third dart and the Kilroe may have been the worst race of his life. He rebounded well to nail the G3 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields, with longshot Il Bellator (20-1) a half-length back in third on his first start for almost nine months, Flavius (15-1) another two lengths back in fifth after more than a year on the sidelines, and Lamplighter Jack (15-1) a dead-heat sixth.
That’s a better reflection of Balnikhov’s ability, although Il Bellator and Flavius are entitled to move up after such long absences. Du Jour, on the other hand, hasn’t won since May 2021 – seven starts – and disappointed next time in the G3 American over course and distance.
That was won by the bang-in-form Exaulted (5-1), who has never been better and was making his stakes breakthrough, stalking, pouncing, and pushing on to complete a hat-trick by a length and a half from Irideo (12-1), who left his rally too late. In that mood, Exaulted will be a big threat to all, while Irideo – a G1 winner in his native Argentina – was showing his best form for several months and may improve again.
French import Salesman (8-1) was an allowance horse ‘over there’ and was stakes-placed over ten furlongs on his final start before emigrating at second-tier Compiegne. He’s a proper wildcard and it’s tough to see him making an instant impact.
2023 Shoemaker Mile Odds
Prediction Phil D’Amato’s barn is hot on the lawn right now and HONG KONG HARRY, who should be ready to peak on his third start of the year, can be the one to keep that run going.
|HORSE||JOCKEY||ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS|
|Gold Phoenix (IRE)||Kazushi Kimura||+400|
|Hong Kong Harry (IRE)||Flavien Prat||-125|
|Du Jour||Luis Saez||+600|
|Flavius||Mike E. Smith||+1500|
|Il Bellator||Alejandro Gomez||+2000|
|Exaulted||Juan J. Hernandez||+500|
|Balnikhov (IRE)||Umberto Rispoli||+500|
|Cabo Spirit||Joe Bravo||+1500|
|Lamplighter Jack||Edwin A. Maldonado||+1500|
|Irideo (ARG)||Hector Isaac Berrios||+1200|
|Salesman (IRE)||Ramon A. Vazquez||+800|
G1, $400,000, 1m 1f turf, 3yo+ females, 3.12pm PT
If you believe in lightning striking twice – and there’s no reason why it can’t – then Viareggio (5-2) merits a very close look in the Gamely for last year’s winning trainer Brendan Walsh.
Twelve months ago Walsh took this with British import Ocean Road, off a warm-up win in a Keeneland allowance. This time he sends Irish import Viareggio off a warm-up win in a Keeneland allowance, and the habit could be infectious.
Viareggio won a G3 over a mile-eighth on her final start in the old country, a career-best, and picked up the thread straight away Stateside when getting up late to take that mile-sixteenth allowance by a neck. That was her first start off an eight-month layoff, so she’s going to be much sharper, and European turf form is usually pretty strong in comparison to US form on the lawn.
She does face stiff opposition in Queen Goddess (9-5), freewheeling easy winner of the G3 Robert J. Frankel over course and distance from Closing Remarks (5-1) and Quattroelle (3-1), before taking down the G3 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park by a comfortable length and a half.
Unfortunately, Queen Goddess blotted her copybook in the G1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland last time, last of six behind In Italian, but this looks much easier and that clunker shouldn’t be held against her, and crucially she figures to be the lone speed.
Quattroelle has held her form well since the Robert J. Frankel, winning twice here over a mile in the G3 Megahertz and the G2 Buena Vista, when she beat Macadamia (5-1) by a half-length with Closing Remarks third and School Dance (6-1) fourth, a length further back.
Next time out Macadamia took her revenge in the G3 Wilshire, again here over a mile, stretching the margin of superiority to a length with Closing Remarks fourth. There’s clearly very little between Quattroelle and Macadamia but this is a tougher test for both mares, while School Dance was an excellent runner-up – beaten just a head – in the G1 American Oaks here over ten furlongs in December, but has struggled to repeat that level of form.
Simon Callaghan has trained the winner of this race three times and relies on Bellamore (15-1), who has yet to win at stakes level but ran a fine race when third in the G1 Rodeo Drive here over ten furlongs in October. She needs more now, though.
2023 Gamely Stakes Odds
Prediction European turf form should never be underestimated and G3 winner VIAREGGIO, who made a successful start Stateside last time, looks ready for the step up in class.
|HORSE||JOCKEY||ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS|
|School Dance||Flavien Prat||+600|
|Bellamore||Ramon A. Vazquez||+1500|
|Queen Goddess||Luis Saez||+180|
|Closing Remarks||Joe Bravo||+500|
|Viareggio (IRE)||Umberto Rispoli||+250|
|Quattroelle (IRE)||Hector Isaac Berrios||+300|
|Macadamia (BRZ)||Tiago Josue Pereira||+500|
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