With the calendar rolling into the new year, January 1st marked the day when all 3-year-old race horses turned 4, and all 2-year-olds turned 3. And with a whole new group of 3-year-olds coming onto the scene, we welcome the class of 2010 and the beginning of the road to, you guessed it, the Kentucky Derby.
This weekend marks a slew of stakes races in the warmest parts of the country, many of which will feature the stakes debut of freshly-minted 3-year-olds. Santa Anita will feature the 7-furlong Grade II Santa Ynez and the 1-mile Grade III San Rafael on Saturday, as well as the San Pedro Stakes on Monday as a part of the extended holiday weekend. Golden Gate fields will feature the California Derby on Saturday, while in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Dixie Belle and Smarty Jones Stakes will kick off its racing season.
The San Rafael serves as a key prep race for the marquee 3-year-old event at the same track, the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. A field of only five has assembled, with the Bob Baffert-trained Conveyance, by Indian Charlie and out of a Holy Bull mare, as the early favorite. The front-running Conveyance has won 2 races in as many starts, and will be attempting to win his first stakes race in the San Rafael. Conveyance broke his maiden by 1 ½ lengths at Santa Anita and has been working well since his last start, a six-furlong allowance at Hollywood Park, where he drew clear by 7 lengths. One of his competitors include Domonation, who ran second in the 6 1/2-furlong Stuka Stakes last time out, and is looking to improve with the extra distance. Domonation is a late-runner trained by John Sadler.
The Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes will feature six fillies duking it out to achieve graded stakes victory; the competitive field features stakes winners Franny Freud and She’s Funomenal, as well as the runner-up in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet, Amen Hallelujah. Franny Freud will be toting the high weight at 123 pounds, spotting the next-highest weight, She’s Funomenal, 7 pounds. Though considered an East Coast invader, Franny Freud ran and won at Woodbine as a 2-year-old, beating the eventual winner of the Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland, Negligee, in the Ontario Debutante. In her last stakes performance, Franny Freud won by five lengths over the slop at Aqueduct going 6 furlongs. She’s Funomenal is unbeaten in two starts and won the Ifyoucouldseemenow Stakes at Hollywood this past fall. Amen Hallelujah looked to be the front-running winner of the Hollywood Starlet, when Blind Luck dropped out of the clouds with a rocketing late-kick that left her rivals stunned some 7 lengths in the dust.
The 8 ½-furlong California Derby at Golden Gate will see the clash of two up-and-comers, the undefeated 2-for-2 Connemara and the zippy Our Minesweeper, who has won 2 of his last 3 starts. The Derby is shaping up to be a two-horse race in a field of six; though not considered a major stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby, these youngsters are looking to see where they belong in their class, and a win here would send them one step closer to the road to Kentucky. Our Minesweeper is the more tested of these two, but hasn’t proven his consistency yet; Connemara is a Todd Pletcher-trainee and is seeking his first stakes victory.
Friday is opening day at Oaklawn Park. The Dixie Belle, a 6 furlong test for 3-year-old fillies, will kick off the 54-day meet. Major contenders include Decelerator and Vertical Vision. Monday will feature the 1-mile Smarty Jones Stakes; entries are yet to be announced.
In off-the-Road news, the gray filly Stardom Bound is set to make her comeback at Santa Anita this Sunday in the Grade II El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita, the site of her biggest career victories. She will have a tough task ahead of her; standing squarely in the way of her chance at redemption is a testy field of fillies, including Dream Empress and Justwhistledixie. The El Encino will be Stardom Bound’s first start since finishing 5th at Aqueduct in the Gazelle this past November. Her regular rider, Mike Smith, will attempt to return the team to the very same winner’s circle where they celebrated a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2008.
HRTV will be covering all races from Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and Oaklawn Park this weekend.
Saturday: The Grade III San Rafael will post at approximately 1:31pm PT; the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes will post at approximately 2:34pm PT; the California Derby will post at approximately 4:15pm PT.
Sunday: The Grade I El Encino Stakes will post at approximately 4:07pm PT.
Monday: The Smarty Jones Stakes will post at approximately 5:00pm ET; The San Pedro Stakes will post at approximately 6:59pm ET.