Trainer Ben Cecil got last season off to a fine start on New Year's Day when his Spring Style nosed out heavily favored Harmonious in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIT) on the turf at Santa Anita. The English conditioner will be hoping for more of the same fortune in this year's renewal when he saddles Miss Mittagong.
The $150,000 event for older fillies and mares is contested at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Six are entered for the Jan. 1 stake, which is set for 4:07 p.m. PST. The race, formerly known as the San Gorgonio, was renamed for Frankel in 2010 after Santa Anita's all-time winningest trainer lost his battle against lymphoma at the age of 68 Nov. 16, 2009.
Like Spring Style a year ago, Miss Mittagong will be seeking her first stakes victory in the Frankel. She is also owned by Cecil's wife, Kristina, and Zillah Reddam, the owners of Spring Style.
Miss Mittagong, a soon-to-be 5-year-old mare by Pleasantly Perfect, ran second in her most recent start, the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track Dec. 4. She finished 3 1/4 lengths behind Ellafitz, who was nominated to the Frankel but not entered by trainer Bob Baffert.
That was Miss Mittagong's stakes debut. The bay filly, who began her career in Great Britain, won an off-the-turf optional claiming race three weeks prior to the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa at Hollywood. Joel Rosario retains the mount for Cecil and they drew the far outside post.
Jockey Garrett Gomez, who rode Spring Style to victory last year, will be looking to celebrate his 40th birthday with a victory aboard Bauble Queen. The daughter of Arch, who turns 4, drew the rail for trainer Eric Kruljac and the ownership group Class Racing Stable.
Gomez also won the Frankel (San Gorgonio) on two other occasions, in 2008 aboard Wait a While for Todd Pletcher, and in 2000 with the Eddie Gregson-trained Lady At Peace.
Bauble Queen ran third in the Bayakoa, less than a length behind Miss Mittagong. She was also third in the one-mile Harold C. Ramser Stakes (gr. IIIT) with a late-running effort on the Santa Anita turf course Oct. 16.
City to City, who spots each of her rivals five pounds, carries top weight of 123 pounds. Owned by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in partnership with William DeBurgh and Mark Dedomenico, the 5-year-old City Zip mare returns to grass in the Frankel following a lackluster fifth-place showing as the 8-5 favorite in the Bayakoa.
Prior to the Bayakoa, 12 of City to City’s 13 races had been on turf, a surface on which she has compiled a 4-2-4 record including a win in the Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT) at Del Mar Sept. 5. She also took Santa Anita's Providencia Stakes (gr. IIT) as a 3-year-old.
City to City, who drew post 3 with a rider switch to Rafael Bejarano, carries a career mark of 6-5-5 in 22 starts into the race with a field-best $404,491 in earnings.
The only other graded stakes winner in the field is Michael Tabor's Turning Top, victorious in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park last year. Trained by Simon Callaghan, the Irish-bred daughter of Pivotal has not been out since finishing fourth after setting the pace in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes (gr. IT) over the course three months ago.
Rounding out the field are the Cecil-trained Celestial Kitten and Irish-bred Whisper Louise, first and second, respectively, in a restricted turf stakes over one mile Dec. 8 at Hollywood.
$150,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Bauble Queen (KY), G K Gomez, 118, J E Kruljac
2. Celestial Kitten (KY), M E Smith, 118, B D Cecil
3. City to City (KY), R Bejarano, 123, J Hollendorfer
4. Turning Top (IRE), D R Flores, 118, S Callaghan
5. Whisper Louise (IRE), V Espinoza, 118, J M Cassidy
6. Miss Mittagong (KY), J Rosario, 118, B D Cecil