June 22, 2024

Country Grammer gets Dettori in San Antonio; Pizza Bianca stretches out in American Oaks

Country Grammer beats Hot Rod Charlie (right), Chuwa Wizard (left), and Life Is Good in the Dubai World Cup (Photo by Dubai Racing Club)

Santa Anita’s traditional day after Christmas opener features six stakes, topped by the Malibu (G1) and La Brea (G1). Three of the remaining quartet are on turf – the $300,000 American Oaks (G1), $200,000 San Gabriel (G2), and $200,000 Santa Anita Mathis Mile (G2) – while Monday’s other graded dirt event is the $200,000 San Antonio (G2).

San Antonio (G2) – Race 6 (4:30 p.m. ET)

Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Country Grammer renews his partnership with Frankie Dettori for the first time since the Mar. 26 extravaganza at Meydan. The legendary jockey is riding at Santa Anita this winter, part of his world tour before retiring at the end of the 2023 season. It will be fascinating to see if Dettori can manage to get the stamina-laden Country Grammer up in time at a 1 1/16-mile trip that he’s consistently found too short.

The Bob Baffert trainee has been runner-up in his three starts since returning from Dubai, the July 30 San Diego (G2) at this distance, the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic (G1) behind the other-worldly Flightline, and the Oct. 1 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita. Country Grammer hopes for enough pace to turn the San Antonio into a sterner test, but in any event, he can use it as a stepping stone to the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup (G1). He was a near-miss second in the $20 million race this February, without the benefit of a prep, and he’s eligible to return to Riyadh fully cranked.

Stablemate Hopkins figures to help him tactically with his high speed on the rail. The Quality Road colt, who comes off maiden and entry-level allowance scores in sprints, makes his stakes and two-turn debut here. Baffert’s third entrant, Hudson Ridge, has spent most of his career on turf, but switches surfaces and picks up Flavien Prat. Californian (G2) victor Stilleto Boy, last seen trailing in the Pacific Classic, is a likely pace player. John Sadler is double-handed with multiple Grade 3-winning marathoner Heywoods Beach, coming off a second in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) on Breeders’ Cup Friday, and well-bred allowance scorer Breakfast Ride.

Santa Anita Mathis Mile (G2) – Race 1 (2 p.m. ET)

Recent $1 million Tattersalls acquisition I’m a Gambler makes his stateside debut in the Santa Anita Mathis Mile for sophomores. A progressive handicapper for Mark and Charlie Johnston, he capped his British career with a stakes victory in the Oct. 1 Guisborough S. at Redcar. Thereafter the No Nay Never gelding attracted plenty of attention at the Autumn Horses in Training Sale, where Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal prevailed in a bidding war for the session-topper. Now with Mark Glatt, I’m a Gambler gets Prat in the saddle.

Deep-closing Balnikhov bids to follow up on his just-in-time tally in the Bryan Station (G3) at Keeneland, and keeps Tyler Gaffalione aboard. The Richard Mandella-trained Sumter returns to his optimal trip for the first time since the spring. A perfect 2-for-2 at a mile, the War Front colt beat Handy Dandy in the Feb. 19 Pasadena S. and edged Balnikhov in the Apr. 2 Singletary S. over this course and distance. Peter Miller’s admirably consistent Handy Dandy exits a fourth in the Hollywood Derby (G1).

Balnikhov’s trainer, Phil D’Amato, has a second-stringer in Agatino, who adds blinkers after a pair of allowance losses. Rounding out the field are Time to Party and last-out maiden winner One More Bid.

San Gabriel (G2) – Race 3 (3 p.m. ET)

D’Amato has the two main threats in the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel, Prince Abama and Masteroffoxhounds. Prince Abama shortens up after a breakthrough win in the Nov. 25 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) at 1 1/2 miles. Multiple Grade 2 veteran Masteroffoxhounds nearly wired the Nov. 26 Seabiscuit H. (G2), only to be nailed late and relegated to third.

Leonard Powell also has two entrants. Frequent bridesmaid Dicey Mo Chara, fourth as the favorite in a paceless Hollywood Turf Cup, should get a better set-up. Flashiest has been disappointing since his 2021 campaign, when upsetting the Oceanside S. and placing in the Del Mar Derby (G1). Comebacker Bob and Jackie, who landed last year’s off-the-turf San Gabriel (G3), resurfaces for new trainer George Papaprodromou. The Doug O’Neill duo of Rip City and Go On conclude the line-up.

American Oaks (G1) – Race 11 (7 p.m. ET)

With 11 three-year-old fillies set to square off over 1 1/4 grassy miles, the American Oaks shapes up as the most contentious stakes on the card. Pizza Bianca, the established class of the field, meets a few on the upswing as well as sneaky European import Mise en Scene.

Pizza Bianca’s season hasn’t quite panned out as hoped for, with the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine’s fruitless trip to Royal Ascot for the Coronation (G1) taking a big bite out of her campaign. She took time to come back to herself, and didn’t return to action until well into the fall. Fourth to Skims in the Sands Point (G2), Pizza Bianca moved forward to finish third to outstanding older mare Regal Glory in the Dec. 4 Matriarch (G1).

The Bobby Flay homebred was then transferred from Christophe Clement to Graham Motion, who had a Santa Anita outpost, for this engagement. As a beautifully-bred daughter of Fastnet Rock and a Galileo mare, Pizza Bianca could be more effective on the step up in distance. Umberto Rispoli retains the mount.

Mise en Scene, sixth in the course-record Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) last out, has since remained stateside and joined Brendan Walsh. The Qatar Racing colorbearer is arguably flying under the radar, but her best European form puts her right in the mix. Qatar Racing is also a co-owner of Lady Clementine, well beaten in her prior stakes attempts on this circuit, but now the mount of Dettori.

Chad Brown, who has won two of the past four editions of the American Oaks, dispatches Salimah. The lightly-raced El Kabeir filly takes a class and distance hike after a sharp score in the Nov. 13 Winter Memories S. at Aqueduct. Prat, aboard for her entry-level allowance tally two back, gets re-acquainted.

Also exiting stakes wins are the aforementioned Skims for Shug McGaughey; Valley View (G3) winner Sparkle Blue, who gives Motion a one-two punch; Bellstreet Bridie, who ran away from the usual older suspects in her U.S. bow in the Red Carpet (G3); and D’Amato’s Autumn Miss (G3) victress Rhea Moon. D’Amato has two other chances with School Dance, bringing a three-race winning streak into her stakes debut, and new recruit Oakhurst, who was stakes-placed for Brown before losing form. Red Carpet sixth Duvet Day represents Michael McCarthy, winner of last year’s off-the-turf version with Queen Goddess.