The California Distaff Handicap

Santa Anita Park 10/15/2016
Race # 3 Post Time: 1:30 PM PST
4th running of The California Distaff Handicap

Analysis by Michael Patricks

With only three weeks to go until the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park, there is a bit of a lull in the Stakes action from around the country.  Since most Breeders’ Cup entrants have raced in their final prep before taking center stage, regional eyes will focus on Santa Anita’s third race on Saturday, a $100,000 down the hill turf event for Cal-Bred fillies.  Short on volume but long on talent, the California Distaff Handicap could go any number of ways.  How will it shake out in their Saturday voyage down the hillside turf course? Let’s break it down:

1 -Desert Steel 6/1 ML- Turf specialist loses her preferred pilot Tyler Baze to Enola Gray.  Traditionally, the inside draw has been a tough spot at Santa Anita when coming down in the hill, in part due to the fact that the field makes a right hand turn leaving the chute before sweeping counterclockwise to the finish.  Desert Steel is unplaced in three hillside turf course efforts and she refused to pick up her feet at Del Mar, basically going on a summer sabbatical and thus leading to an easy decision for Baze to defect.  Rafael Bejarano sees fit to ride and he and trainer Simon Callaghan bat .270 together, which is more than serviceable.  This filly was certainly in need of a bit of shake up and perhaps Bejarano will serve as the perfect shot in the arm to get her to turn things around.  I wouldn’t ever talk you off a big price in a small field, but I’m going to trust my gut which tells me she’s just not fast enough to close escrow on these in the lane; has her work cut out.

2 –Long Hot Summer 6/5 ML- One of two here for trainer Phil D’Amato, giving him an incredibly strong hand.  ‘Summer comes off a very strong score at the beach last time out, inhaling her competition and drawing off by daylight at 4/1.  ‘Summer finds herself similarly situated once again on Saturday with both Enola Gray and Home Journey to her outside, and each figures to be forwardly placed thus ensuring a solid pace for her to run at.  This one is very fond of the Santa Anita hillside turf course and will unquestionably be the one to fear late.  Her exclusive rider, Joe Talamo will once again take the reigns and that should give her backers all the extra confidence in the world to step up and bet her with conviction.  This one typically gets freshened up after a couple starts and doesn’t always follow up her victories with ensuing top efforts.  If you missed the wedding last time at 4/1, do you want to go to the funeral on Saturday at 6/5?  Logical contender, but she lacks value.

3 –Enola Gray 9/5 ML- D’Amato Part II, ‘Gray is sensationally fast and tasted defeat for the first time in her last start at Los Alamitos when she faced open company and flopped at 1/5, yes, 1/5!  In her last effort, ‘Gray was unable to get her head in front and faced a new dimension having to try and stalk and pass horses and was unable to collar Bendable, who is a very useful filly.  She will face older on Saturday and try a new surface for the first time, but on the flip side with Grazen on top and More Than Ready on the bottom, she should love the sod.  What’s more, this will be her first time racing when she is not coming off a layoff so that Los Alamitos foundation could provide some added wind in her sails here.  Coupling that with the fact that Tyler Baze sticks with her over Desert Steel and realizing for the first time since facing winners this one will most likely not go favored at post time, we’ve now cooked up some value.  They will certainly have her to catch crossing the dirt and heading into the stretch, and though it’s likely we’ll be holding our collective breath in the last 70 yards with win tickets in hand, just get the feeling this one will have enough left in the tank to pull off the mild upset over her stable mate; the pick with her frisky upside.

4 –Out Ofthe Ordinary 12/1 ML- Danzig grand sired, ‘Ordinary has done all of her damage on turf–in the exacta in four of her seven starts and a winner in her last two at Del Mar, both route races.  It’s encouraging that she broke her maiden in open company and then followed that up by putting it together once again in a State-bred allowance affair at Del Mar, pulling off a mild upset at odds of 11/2 or 5.5 to 1.  Her Beyer Speed Figs are definitely the lightest in this field and she shows only one workout in approximately a month; also, sprinting has never really been this one’s game, though she did hit the board coming down the hill at 54/1 odds against State-bred maidens.  Respect that she’s looking for a hat trick in this spot on Saturday but have to believe her performance will resemble much more of a paid workout than that of a true contender in this spot; wait for her to stretch her legs out next time.

5 –Home Journey 3/1 ML- Venerable type who appears to have become a bit shopworn of late, ‘Journey has not taken down top honors since the spring of 2015, making her value relatively suspect at 3/1.  While it’s true that this one fits on paper, diving into her racing archaeology reveals the immutable fact that this mare has lost ground in the final 1/8th of a mile of her past six races, certainly not a formula for success here.  Her trainer Mike Puype has put a steady string of drills into her for this spot on Saturday and back to back bullet works on the Santa Anita main track shows she still enjoys what she’s doing.  Assuming she can survive the battle with Enola Grey, it’s exceedingly difficult to envision her winning the war with Long Hot Summer waiting in the wings just behind.  Mike Smith has played Houdini before and will once again have to embrace that role here on Saturday–but you’d much rather play that game with him at better odds, compared to the lack of value you’ll be getting from this corner on Saturday; expect her to get tired of chasing once again; leaving her on the cutting room floor.

Consensus: 3-2-1

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