By Margaret Ransom
The La Brea Stakes (G1) has long served as the filly counterpart to Santa Anita’s opening day feature, the Malibu Stakes (G1), and through the decades since it was first contested in 1974 the seven-furlong test for 3-year-old fillies has attracted some amazing talent.
The La Brea used to be part of the La Canada Series for fillies and mares that also included the now defunct El Encino and La Canada, which will be contested on Jan. 11.
Last year, Eclipse Award contender Spiced Perfection took home the victory and added her name to the list that includes past winners Unique Bella, Indian Blessing, Got Koko, Affluent, Spain, Hidden Lake, Exotic Wood, Very Subtle and Terlingua.
Retired Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Gary Stevens each booted home five La Brea winners and trainer Bob Baffert seeks an eighth winner this year.
Kaleem Shah’s Bellafina is the early favorite for Saturday’s edition off her record of four wins and a second from five starts over this track, a determined second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), and a preference for this distance. Flavien Prat will be back aboard for trainer Simon Callaghan.
Bell’s The One and First Star finished first and second, respectively, in the Raven Run Stakes (GI) at Keeneland more than two months ago and are back to compete for the last Grade 1 of the year in their division. The La Brea is one of several stakes races on the opening day undercard that features Omaha Beach taking on four rivals in the Malibu.
Baffert will saddle Grade 1-placed Mother Mother, who hasn’t raced since a troubled sixth in the Eight Belles Stakes (G3) at Churchill six months ago. Hard Not To Love makes her graded stakes debut for trainer John Shirreffs with Mike Smith aboard.
Lady Prancealot tops field for American Oaks
Irish-bred Lady Prancealot is the early favorite among seven other sophomore fillies in the American Oaks (G1). The 1 ¼-mile turf event was first run in 2002 at the now defunct Hollywood Park in the summer but was absorbed by Santa Anita and moved to its current spot in 2016.
The Richard Baltas-trained Lady Prancealot hasn’t raced in more than two months since capturing the Valley View Stakes (G3) at Keeneland and though she’s yet to tackle the 10-furlong distance she certainly has the pedigree to do so successfully. Joe Bravo will be in town to ride.
Vibrance makes her first start since a third-place finish in the Red Carpet Stakes (G3) at Del Mar a month ago and though the Mike McCarthy-trained daughter of Violence hasn’t won in a while, she fits to pick up a share of the purse.
Giza Goddess, second in the Autumn Miss Stakes (G3), finished eighth behind division leader Got Stormy in the Matriarch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar last out, but figures better against this field.
Gift Box returns in San Antonio
The $200,000 San Antonio Stakes (G2) marks the highly anticipated return of Big ‘Cap winner Gift Box after a six-month layoff. The Hronis Racing-owned son of Twirling Candy has been working exceptionally well for trainer John Sadler, and has been labeled the 9-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile main track feature. Joel Rosario will be back aboard.
C R K Racing’s Midcourt is riding a four-race win streak, including the Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar last out. The John Shirreffs trainee is lightly raced as a 4-year-old with just seven career starts and though he has almost as many layoffs as races, the $450,000 Midnight Lute gelding has shown that he belongs with this field with his best performance.
C R K is also represented by Draft Pick, who is trained by Peter Eurton and has been running against some of the toughest in the handicap division and picking up minor pieces.
Mo Forza looks formidable for Mathis Brothers
Bardy Farms’ and OG Boss’ Mo Forza defends a three-race win streak, including the Twilight Derby (G2) and the Hollywood Derby (G1) in his last two and is the runner to beat in the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2). The Peter Miller trainee, a Kentucky-bred son of Uncle Mo, will have Joel Rosario back aboard for the one-mile turf event.
Trainer Richard Baltas sends out Neptune’s Storm, who has finished second and third behind Mo Forza in his last two. England-breds Sash and Barristan the Bold make their North American debut for trainer Mark Glatt. Well-bred Kingly seeks his first win since August for trainer Bob Baffert.