Grade I winner Gabby's Golden Gal, out of action for nearly six months, returns for trainer Bob Baffert as the 123-pound top weight in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) on opening day at Santa Anita Dec. 26.
The companion feature for 3-year-olds fillies to Santa Anita's traditional opener, the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at the same seven-furlong distance, the La Brea attracted a big field of 12 and will go as the eighth event on a 10-race program.
Gabby's Golden Gal won the one-mile Acorn Stakes (gr. I) in front-running fashion at Belmont Park June 6, but in her next race, Belmont's Prioress (gr. I) a month later, she tore off a chunk of a foot after losing her shoe while stumbling at the start, according to Baffert. She finished last of nine.
Arnold Zetcher's speedy filly has turned in a series of sharp works in preparation for the La Brea, a race Baffert has won three times in the past four years. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has won three of six starts this year while earning $343,645. Mike Smith has the call on Gabby's Golden Gal for the first time.
While seven furlongs should be ideal for her running style, Gabby's Golden Girl figures to have some company on the front end in the La Brea. Among those with sharp early speed are Philadelphia Park invader Amazed by Grace, who has won five races in a row, and Zayat Stables' Kays and Jays, who won a stake over the track during the Oak Tree fall meeting for trainer Mike Mitchell.
Amazed by Grace, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, won her stakes debut in Philadelphia's Cornucopia Nov. 24 by one length on the front end for trainer Guadalupe Preciado. Garrett Gomez picks up the mount on the Bowman's Band filly.
If a speed duel develops, that could set things up nicely for one of several closers in the field, including two-time grade II winner Evita Argentina, who comes off a disappointing seventh in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 6.
Evita Argentina, trained by John Sadler for Halo Farms and Three Sisters Thoroughbreds, defeated males in the San Vicente (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February, and later captured the A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) over her own sex at Hollywood Park. The Candy Ride lass has won three of seven starts at seven furlongs.
Baffert also entered Zayat Stables' Mother Ruth, who leaps into grade I company following a second place finish in the Poker Nighy Stakes at Aqueduct Nov. 1.
Others who can close are Dani Reese, a winner of three of four starts in her career for Dan Hendricks, and Pinkarella, who ran away with an allowance victory Nov. 27 in her first start in eight months for trainer Doug O'Neill. Irish-bred Starlarks, winner of the San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) on turf in an 11-1 upset this summer for Paddy Gallagher, has a win over a synthetic track in England.
$300,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I, Race 8, 3 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 7 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Kays and Jays (KY), R Bejarano, 119, M R Mitchell
2. Alice's Smart (KY), D R Flores, 117, J Sahadi
3. Dani Reese (KY), K J Desormeaux, 115, D L Hendricks
4. Amazed by Grace (MD), G K Gomez, 119, G Preciado
5. Evita Argentina (KY), J Rosario, 119, J W Sadler
6. Starlarks (IRE), A O Solis, 119, P Gallagher
7. Will O Way (KY), V Espinoza, 119, V Cerin
8. Mother Ruth (KY), M Garcia, 115, B Baffert
9. Minute Limit (IRE), A Quinonez, 117, J W Sadler
10. Gabby's Golden Gal (KY), M E Smith, 123, B Baffert
11. Rose Diamond (IRE), J Talamo, 115, P L Biancone
12. Pinkarella (KY), T Baze, 115, D F O'Neill