Trainer John Sadler and jockey Joel Rosario, who teamed to win last year's La Brea Stakes (gr. I) with Evita Argentina, seem well-spotted to repeat in the $250,000 event with the hard-knocking Switch at Santa Anita Dec. 26.
The seven-furlong La Brea, the sixth race on the opening-day program with a 2:30 p.m. PST probable start, drew a field of 13 3-year-old fillies. Among the other leading contenders are Champagne d'Oro, a two-time grade I winner this year for trainer Eric Guillot, and Always a Princess, a grade II winner from the Bob Baffert stable.
Sadler should have every opportunity to have a big opening day. Not only does he have the solid La Brea favorite, he'll also saddle standout Twirling Candy and Don Tito in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I), the other grade I feature on the card, as well as likely choice Sidney's Candy in the $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) and contender Contemplated in the $100,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes.
“They’re coming up to the race in very good shape,” Sadler said. “We’re really happy with the track, although we’re catching kind of a historical amount of rain. That forced me to switch works for some of them, but we just adjusted to the weather.”
Santa Anita has endured record rainfall in the past week but is expected to have three days of clearing and partial sunshine leading up to opening day, when there is a 30% chance of precipitation, according to The Weather Channel's website.
Switch, who drew post 3 in the big La Brea field, is coming off a runner-up finish to Dubai Majesty in the seven-furlong Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) and nearly upset Zenyatta in Oak Tree's Lady Secret Stakes (gr. I) before that.
In a year in which the daughter of Quiet American has had three grade I placings, her biggest victory came in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) on the Cushion Track in June. She has had just two starts on dirt and is 3-3-2 in 10 lifetime starts with earnings of $482,600.
Southern Equine Stables' Champagne d'Oro returns to Santa Anita, where she finished last in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) on the Pro-Ride racing surface. The Medaglia d'Oro filly has had a couple of gigantic wins in New York since breaking her maiden at Fair Grounds in February. She went gate-to-wire at 39-1 to win the Betfair TVG Acorn Stakes (gr. I) by a half-length at Belmont Park June 5, then drew away from her rivals to capture Saratoga's Test Stakes (gr. I) by 4 1/2 lengths two months later.
Like Switch, Champagne d'Oro also competed in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, finishing fourth as the lukewarm 4-1 favorite after tiring in the final furlong. Michael Baze has the call for Guillot on Champagne d'Oro, who leads the La Brea field in earnings with $563,465 while winning three of 14 starts. They break from post 11 with high weight of 123 pounds, five more than each of her 12 rivals.
Arnold Zetcher's Always a Princess, winner of the Indiana Oaks (gr. II) on a sloppy track at Hoosier Park Oct. 2, looks to rebound from a disastrous effort in the one-mile Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) in her last start Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. The reliably speedy daughter of Leroidesanimaux stumbled badly at the start, raced eighth for a half-mile and then came with a five-wide move to wind up third as the 7-5 favorite. Rafael Bejarano will guide Always a Princess for the first time from post 9.
Baffert is also represented by Peachtree Stable's Bonnie Blue Flag, runner-up to Champagne d'Oro in the Test prior to a distant fourth-place effort in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. II) at Philadelphia's Parx Racing Oct. 2. This will be her first start back and she will break from the far outside post with Corey Nakantani riding her for the first time.
Pica Slew, a daughter of Pico Central, makes her initial start for trainer John Shirreffs. Terra Di Sienna Stables' Florida-bred filly won three in a row at Calder Casino and Race Course this year, including the Azalea Stakes (gr. III), but has not been out since giving way as the slight favorite in the Test and finishing eighth of nine.
$250,000 La Brea Stakes (gr. I, Race 6, 2:30 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Pica Slew (FL), J Talamo, 118, J A Shirreffs
2. Tornado Betty (CA), P A Valenzuela, 118, V Cerin
3. Switch (KY), J Rosario, 118, J W Sadler
4. Patriotic Viva (KY), M E Smith, 118, P L Biancone
5. La Nez (CA), V Espinoza, 118, J E Kruljac
6. It Tiz (KY), D R Flores, 118, M Glatt
7. Malibu Pier (KY), G K Gomez, 118, C Gaines
8. Hard Way Ten (KY), A O Solis, 118, R E Mandella
9. Always a Princess (KY), R Bejarano, 118, B Baffert
10. Shotgun Gulch (OK), A Quinonez, 118, B L Jackson
11. Champagne d'Oro (KY), M C Baze, 123, E J Guillot
12. Arte Viva (KY), B Blanc, 118, B D Cecil
13. Bonnie Blue Flag (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, B Baffert
Blinkers On: Tornado Betty