LEXINGTON, Ky. (December 27, 2019) – Throughout the year, the NTRA will provide a guide to the best stakes races in North America and beyond. Races are listed in chronological order (all times Eastern). Full previews when available can be found through the link for each race.
The opening day of Santa Anita Park’s winter meet features six graded stakes races, three of which are Grade 1 tests. Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Derby before having to scratch due to a throat ailment, headlines the loaded slate of action by taking on a compact field in Malibu Stakes.
Though it is not graded, the Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds features top-level participants with Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston set to make his return in the turf contest.
Saturday December 28
4:08 p.m.—$200,000 Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Hronis Racing’s Gift Box, idle since June 15, and recent graded stakes winner Midcourt head a field of seven 3-year-olds and up in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. A winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap three starts back on April 6, Gift Box has blossomed in the care of trainer John Sadler, winning two out of his four starts, including his Southern California debut, the 2018 edition of the San Antonio. Headquartered with trainer Chad Brown through his first 13 starts in New York, Gift Box was purchased by Hronis Racing in the summer of 2018.
4:44 p.m.—$300,000 Grade 1 American Oaks at Santa Anita Park on TVG
With distance looming as a huge consideration, Lady Prancealot (IRE) rates top billing among a field of eight sophomore fillies in the American Oaks, to be contested at 1 ¼-miles over the Santa Anita turf. Trained by Richard Baltas, Lady Prancealot has been idle since rallying from off the pace to take the Grade 3 Valley View Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 18.
5:18 p.m.—$300,000 Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina, a fast finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on November 2, heads a field of nine sophomore fillies in the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes, one of six graded offerings on Santa Anita’s Winter Meet opening day. The leading money winner in the field with earnings of $1,386,725, Bellafina will face stiff competition recent Grade 2 winner Bell’s the One, who ships in from her New Orleans base, Bob Baffert’s Mother Mother, who’s been twice second to the top choice and trainer John Shirreffs’ improving allowance winner, Hard Not to Love.
5:22 p.m.—$75,000 Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds on TVG
Tracy Farmer’s homebred Sir Winston, winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes in June, is set to make his first start since earning that classic triumph when he starts in Saturday’s $75,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds. The about one mile turf race is restricted to 3-year-olds. After his Belmont victory, Sir Winston was sent to the sidelines, spending time at trainer Mark Casse’s Training Center in Ocala, Florida. Starting on October 23, he posted six published works there prior to arriving at Fair Grounds, where he’s breezed three times leading up to Saturday’s return.
5:51 p.m.—$100,000 Grade 3 Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Grade 1 winner Mirth aims to cap a breakout season with another graded stakes triumph when she faces seven challengers in the 1 1/8-miles Robert J. Frankel Stakes. The daughter of Colonel John notched her first graded score when she captured the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita on September 28 and most recently finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
6:26 p.m.—$300,000 Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park on TVG
The morning line favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Richard Mandella’s Omaha Beach rates top billing in Saturday’s Malibu Stakes going seven furlongs. Omaha Beach, who took both the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby this past spring at Oaklawn Park, was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby due to an entrapped epiglottis. Following surgery and a lengthy rehab, Omaha Beach resurfaced in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship on October 5 and he prevailed by a head over eventual Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Shancelot.
7 p.m.—$200,000 Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile at Santa Anita Park on TVG
Bred and owned in-part by former trainer Barry Abrams, Mo Forza looms the horse to beat in Saturday’s Mathis Brothers Mile, which has attracted a field of 11 three-year-old. With all eight of his lifetime starts coming on grass, Mo Forza broke his maiden at a mile on turf here three starts back on September 29. Off at 18-1 in the Grade 2 Twilight Derby, he pressed the pace and prevailed by 1 ¾ lengths. The 5-2 favorite in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar, he kept Neptune’s Storm at bay late to win by three quarters of a length.