Santa Anita: The GIII, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)
#1 Let’s Meet in Rio (6-1): The first of two from Baffert may get ignored a bit with his more heralded stablemate Mor Spirit taking all the money, but he was a solid second in the local GIII Sham last month and drew perfectly for this two-turn run. Son of Flatter will need some pace help, as he doesn’t have any early speed, but with two stretch-out sprinters signed on, the splits should be honest, if nothing else. On paper he’s yet to run fast enough to win this, but his last was also his first start against winners, so it’s not like he can’t improve and make a late dent; figures to pass a few in the lane.
#2 I Will Score (5-2): Undefeated runner has dazzled early in a pair of sprint wins and now stretches out to see if he can get some added ground and an extra turn, and as a son of Roman Ruler, he’s got it within his scope. On paper he’s the controlling speed here, and he won’t have to run 43 1/5 like he did in his local optional claiming win last month to make the front, so expect him to be sent early and play “catch me if you can,” and with just one prospective pace rival (Uncle Lino), who he ran off his feet early last time, you have to think he’s loose and clear. Smith and Hollendorfer are a potent 35% duo over the past few years, and owning a tactical edge over this track can go a long way, so here’s hoping he forgets to stop; wire job.
#3 Dressed in Hermes (6-1): Tricky read returns to the main track for his 3yo debut after doing some good work on the turf at 2, including ending his campaign with a win in the GIII DeMille at Del Mar. That’s the good news; the bad news is that he was a well-beaten fourthby heavyweight Exaggerator in his lone dirt start. Of course, that was in his career debut, going 6 furlongs at Del Mar, so there’s a good chance he’s simply a better horse now than he was then, and that he’s improved with added ground, too. Dad Hat Trick (Jpn) is more of a turf sire, which clouds the thinking even more, and you just wonder if Armstrong is abiding to the theory that if you have a talented 3yo, you have to try him on dirt, regardless of whether he likes the surface or not; making him prove it.
#4 Laoban (12-1): Well-regarded runner is still a maiden after three starts, so this is a big ask for this son of Uncle Mo, who blew a 5-length late lead at Los Alamitos Race Course two-back, then stalked and didn’t make a dent in the lane when third behind ‘Rio in the Sham. But hey, at least he showed he’s not out of his element as a maiden running in a GIII stakes, though obviously the waters get much deeper here with a GI winner signed on, and a few hot new shooters too. You have to respect Guillot for forging on, but he’s never one to miss a party, and the beer and crawfish are colder and tastier for stakes races than they are for MSW races, which might be the only reason he’s here; needs softer to break through.
#5 Mor Spirit (8-5): The deserving favorite and much more highly ranked of the Baffert duo will very likely be odds-on, as he enters off a GI win in the Los Alamitos Futurity to end his 2yo campaign in December and is firmly in everyone’s Derby top-10 at this early juncture. Well-traveled son of Eskendereya has shown that he doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him, though he broke his maiden going two turns here in October, so there’s no worry about him handling the local surface. Tactical sort has enough early speed to keep the pick within his sights and will get first run off the far turn on the stalker/closers too, but on paper and visually he’s never really wowed you, and it’s not like he beat much in his GI win, so if the others have bridged the gap while he’s been off, then his advantage dwindles that much more, which makes taking a short price mighty dicey; second-best.
#6 Path of David (8-1): Expected longshot should be about three times his ML price, as his two dirt runs last spring and summer were just dreadful. If you’re in his corner, then you’re lumping him in with ‘Hermes, and saying he’s a better horse now that he’s gone long, and there’s no doubt Mulhall has done a good job since she got him from Stidham two starts back, as he’s undefeated in two starts. But those two runs were on turf, and dad Istan is a turf, sire too, so even with Dynaformer on the bottom, it’s unlikely he can do anything but pick up a minor award against a group like this; not seeing it.
#7 Uncle Lino (5-1): The main early danger to I Will Score settled off him a few lengths last time and just missed on the line when he was third, beaten a neck, in the local optional claimer, and as a son of Uncle Mo, he too is bred to stretch out. This wide draw is a bit of a concern, but he’s also the second fastest horse in the race early, so he should be able to gain some position entering the first turn and should trip out nicely just off ‘Score. From there it’s just a matter of whether he’s good enough or not, and Sherlock has done a nice job getting him to this point, so with a nice price in the offing and clearly a talented colt, you could do worse; price players have their hero.
#2 I Will Score
#5 Mor Spirit
#1 Let’s Meet in Rio
#7 Uncle Lino