The traditional December 26th Opening Day card at Santa Anita is filled with stakes races and horizontal wagering opportunities, including a late Pick 4 that starts in Race 7 with the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) and includes the San Antonio (G2) and the Malibu (G1).
Here are my thoughts on the sequence:
Race 7: Mathis Brothers Mile (G2)
There is no doubt this $200,000 race conducted over the Santa Anita sod goes through 8-5-morning line favorite #5 River Boyne. The Irish-bred son of Dandy Man put forth a career best 104 BRIS Speed rating in his runner-up performance to Chad Brown trainee Raging Bull in the Hollywood Derby (G1). He is a perfect 5-for-5 over this turf course and has the tactical speed to stay close if the pace is moderate or come from a bit further out of it if they go quick early. My only concern is regression after the huge effort going nine panels just 25 days ago.
If River Boyne takes a step backwards, #3 Gidu is the one likeliest to take advantage. The Zayat Stables colt comes in off a brief freshening and should get the jump on the chalk. The rest of the group appears overmatched.
Race 8: San Antonio (G2)
This 1 1/16-mile event for three-year-olds and upward drew a field of nine led by the top two finishers in last month’s Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar.
#2 Battle of Midway was all heart in that nine-furlong affair at Del Mar and has won two straight since a fifth-place effort in the Kelso (G2) at Belmont Park in late September. I trust the son of Smart Strike much more than I do #3 Dabster, who ran big in each of his starts in November but missed by less than a length in both tries. The eight and a half furlongs may be a bit shorter than Dabster prefers.
If you are looking for a runner that will provide a bit more value, perhaps #6 Tatters to Riches or #9 Beach View can spring the upset.
Tatters to Riches has always been highly regarded, but has raced just five times for trainer Jeff Mullins. He takes a big step up in class on Wednesday, but could be ready for a move forward under jockey Tyler Baze.
Beach View made his first start off a four-month break in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) on November 23rd and finished a solid third. The move to the dirt and the turn back in distance could lead to a big effort for the five-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway.
Race 9: Malibu (G1)
The Malibu is one of two Grade 1’s on the Opening Day card at Santa Anita and drew a full field of 14 three-year-olds.
#13 McKinzie is the deserving 7-2-morning line favorite, but he does come off a poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) less than two months ago. The son of Street Sense is one of four Bob Baffert trainees in the main body of the field and could appreciate the cutback to one turn. However, I think there are several others who will provide better value in this competitive race at seven panels, so I will try to beat him
#3 Copper Bullet was impressive in his return race at Churchill Downs and certainly can move forward, but he did race over the good part of the track that day and needs to prove he is ready for the class hike. He is tough to leave off your ticket though due to the obvious upside.
#6 Axelrod put forth a career best 110 BRIS Speed rating when running second to McKinzie in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and then took a step backwards in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but could thrive at seven-eighths of a mile. He should get a great trip under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and is a must use at 10-to-1 on the line.
So is #9 Ax Man, who has been gelded since his last start, a third-place effort at 3-to-5 in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) in July. He comes into his return race off a strong series of drills over this surface and is another that should relish the turn back in distance.
An allowance race at 1 1/8 miles over the lawn concludes the sequence and the Opening Day card. I will use several.
#3 Shaky Alibi looks like controlling speed for trainer Carla Gaines. If the grass plays towards front runners, which it often does at Santa Anita, he could take them all the way in his initial try versus winners.
#4 Acker is an obvious contender as the son of Include looks to make it three in a row for trainer Peter Miller. He will need to avoid regression though after a big move forward in terms of BRIS Speed ratings last time out.
#5 Trojan Spirit and #7 Erotic were defeated by Acker last month, but will offer much greater value and are capable of “turning the tables” in the finale.
#6 Souter attracts Joel Rosario and has a pair of seconds in four starts at “The Great Race Place.”
Suggested 50-cent Pick 4 Wager
Race 7: 3+5
Race 8: 2+6+9
Race 9: 3+6+9
Race 10: 3+4+5+6+7
Ticket Cost: $45