The most intriguing race on a loaded Santa Anita Park card May 23 might be the opening stakes on "California Gold Rush Day" at the Southern California track.
The $150,000 Spring Fever Stakes, at six furlongs, will pit the only graded winner in the five races, Harlington's Rose, against the lightly-raced but undefeated filly Sunday Rules.
Part of the Golden State Series, "Gold Rush Day" features five stakes for horses bred or sired in California with combined purses totaling $825,000.
Owned by Thomas Halasz, Ryan Johnson, Paul Newhart and Martha Miller, et al, Harlington's Rose broke through last time out in the March 8 Las Flores Stakes (gr. III), her third graded try and 21st race overall. The 4-year-old Harlington filly will break from post 2 with jockey Joe Talamo, who guided her to a three-quarter length victory in the Las Flores, as well as a victory in the Kalookan Queen Stakes Dec. 28.
BALAN: Harlington's Rose Rallies to Take Las Flores
"She won two stakes at the last meet, and seems to be getting better and better," trainer Steve Knapp said. "It's hard to know why (some horses bloom late), but she's become a real racehorse. She can be five lengths off the lead or up close. She's developed into a fine filly."
Three spots to her right in the field of six older fillies and mares will be Nicholas Alexander's homebred Sunday Rules, breaking from post 5 with jockey Tyler Baze for her stakes debut.
Although the daughter of Tribal Rule lacks experience with only four career starts, all have been impressive gate-to-wire victories with a combined margin of 24 1/4 lengths. The slightest margin was her last race, a 6 1/2-furlong allowance/optional claiming event in her 4-year-old debut April 30 at Santa Anita, when she won by 2 1/2 lengths.
Her race prior came at Santa Anita last June, which was preceded by another long layoff from a race at Del Mar in August of 2013.
"She's got a bunch of little hiccups. She had some 2-year-old issues, then she got sick," trainer Phil D'Amato said of the filly's extended layoffs. "Her ability is her cruising speed. When she breezes :59, she is just galloping. That's just her. She oozes talent and has that intrinsic speed. She just hasn't (faced) anybody faster than her."
Knapp is more than aware of the D'Amato trainee and adjusted workouts for Harlington's Rose accordingly. The last two drills for the filly have been :46 2/5 for four furlongs May 10 (the second best of 96 at that distance) and :34 4/5 for three furlongs May 17 (second of 42 at that distance).
"Those last works are because I don't want Sunday Rules getting away from me," Knapp said of Harlington's Rose, who usually likes to stalk the pace. "She's got plenty of speed and she can relax, but Santa Anita is a speed race track right now. You've got to be close to the lead to win."
Other stakes on the day are the $125,000 Fran's Valentine (a mile on the turf for older fillies and mares), the $200,000 Melair (1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 3-year-old fillies), the $200,000 Snow Chief (1 1/8 miles on the turf), and the $150,000 Tiznow (mile on the dirt).
The Melair and Snow Chief both feature last-time-out stakes winners.
The Melair has potential favorite Sheer Pleasure, who closed from 11th to win the Evening Jewel Stakes at Santa Anita April 4, and will also have La Fiera, who will make her debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and her first dirt start after winning the Campanile Stakes on Golden Gate Fields' turf course April 26.
The Snow Chief brings 3-year-old gelding Richard's Boy, winner of four races from five starts at sprint distances including the Desert Code Stakes on the Santa Anita downhill turf course May 2. The son of Idiot Proof will make his first start longer than 6 1/2 furlongs in the Snow Chief. Also entered is Grazen Sky, another Alexander homebred who won Golden Gate's Silky Sullivan Stakes April 26 last time out.
The Tiznow features shipper Joy Boy, a California-bred who has made his living in the Midwest for most of his career. The 7-year-old gelding has $455,377 in earnings with 11 wins from 36 starts, but last made an appearance on the West Coast in March of 2013. The son of Tribal Rule last raced at Nebraska's Fonner Park, where he won the Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes.