An untimely loss as an odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) in November proved costly to Marley’s Freedom in her quest for an Eclipse Award title as champion female sprinter. On Saturday, the five-year-old mare kicks off her campaign to become the division leader of 2019 in the $200,000 Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita.
Second to returning rival Selcourt in last year’s Santa Monica, Marley’s Freedom subsequently switched from the barn of Ron Hess to Bob Baffert, for whom she’s won four of five, including the Ballerina (G1) and the Go for Wand H. (G1) last out. Her lone setback was a half-length fourth in the Breeders’ Cup to Shamrock Rose, who was named champion last month.
Selcourt was 12th in the Breeders’ Cup, her first race back since the Santa Monica more than seven months earlier. Heavily favored to rebound in the $75,000 Kalookan Queen on January 13, Selcourt weakened late to finish second.
Multiple Grade 1 veteran Paradise Woods, fourth in last year’s Santa Monica and only twice raced since, makes her debut for trainer John Shirreffs on Saturday. She was last seen in July finishing sixth in a restricted stakes at Del Mar.
Heavy rain has pelted Southern California much of the week, and Paradise Woods notably faded as the favorite in the 2017 Kentucky Oaks (G1) over a sloppy track.
“I’m just hoping for good weather,” Shirreffs said.
The Baffert-trained Dream Tree looks to rebound off her first career loss in the December 26 La Brea (G1), where she retreated to last as the 7-10 favorite. Her five prior victories included the 2017 Starlet (G1) and 2018 Las Virgenes (G2) and Prioress (G2).
The field is rounded out by Grade 2 veteran Mopotism, last-out La Canada (G3) heroine Escape Clause, and the allowance-class.