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Race of the Week: Joe Hernandez at Santa Anita | Saturday, January 1, 2022

by Jeremy Plonk

December 30, 2021


The Lead:
Start your New Year with a winner at Santa Anita, where a quartet of important stakes races will be contested Saturday in consecutive races. Elite turf sprinters kick off the series of shared features in Race 6, the $200,000 Grade 2 Joe Hernandez Stakes. That's followed by the Sham, the Frankel and the La Canada -- all graded events.

Horseplayers on the Xpressbet and 1/ST BET platforms can take part in a series of up to $10 money-back specials on win bets throughout the family of racetracks this Saturday and Sunday from Santa Anita to Gulfstream to Laurel to Golden Gate. See Xpressbet.com/promotions for more details.

Field Depth:
BEER CAN MAN and CUPID'S CLAWS are domestic Grade 3 winners, while DELAWARE was a Group 3 winner in France. CHEWING GUM has been Grade 1-placed, while MOMOS has paced at the Grade 2 level. The class facts seems evenly split between CHEWING GUM, CUPID'S CLAWS and DELAWARE in terms of strength of schedule.

With 6-1/2 furlong downhill sprints, you expect a lot of early heat. But only MOMOS and BEER CAN MAN appear to be committed to the front tangle. Closers are going to have to keep in touch.

Our Eyes:
Three Eastern raiders and a French import make this 7-horse field unlike most SoCal turf sprints we see.

CHEWING GUM, DELAWARE and MOMOS take their game west in the Hernandez. The late-running CHEWING GUM hasn't been as effective late as his career as progressed, and now at age 7 will be trying something completely new in hopes of a reclamation project. At 3-22 lifetime at this point in his career, he feels like an underlay on the tote Saturday. DELAWARE hasn't sprinted on turf since July of 2020 when he ran down CHEWING GUM over 7 furlongs to be second at Belmont in allowance company. But he's run in 8 stakes since at longer distances, and now shows up off an August layoff with a change of venue and trainer. Chad Brown gives way to Paddy Gallagher. Jockey Mike Smith should be a good fit in terms of late-running style. MOMOS has yet to be older horses in stakes company, but this newly turned 4-year-old seems to stack up well with these on form and projected race shape. Unless BEER CAN MAN attacks early, hot-riding opening weekend pilot John Velazquez can do his best to ration MOMOS on the front end.

The European X-factor is BRAN. He's been training at Santa Anita since November for his first domestic bid under the care of John Sadler, who unleashed the rising star Flightline here Sunday in the Malibu. BRAN comes with less fanfare, a former claiming and allowance sort in France. He flashed talent in a Dec. 20 workout on the SA training track. XBTV cameras were rolling as he rallied up the inside to outfinish a pair of Phil D'Amato workers and gallop out with interest. He's in with a chance against these.

With west coast turf sprint kingpin Peter Miller stepping aside from the training game, he's turned over much of his stable to assistant Ruben Alvarado, who will be firing here with COMMANDER and CUPID'S CLAWS. It's too soon to draw conclusions on whether Alvarado will continue the same kind of strike rate we saw with Miller. COMMANDER is obviously the more suited turf sprinter of the pair as CUPID'S CLAW makes a wild cut back in trip after his last 3 starts between 10 and 13 furlongs. There's nothing on the 7-year-old's form that suggests the turf sprint will be the ideal fit, so lean to COMMANDER of the Alvarado pair ... though neither jumps off the page to me.

BEER CAN MAN is the most trustworthy of the California locals. He should pop first or second early from the rail with MOMOS the chief early threat. The inside draw is not the edge in downhill turf sprints, where there's a dog-leg to the course that actually favors those drawn outside. But in a 7-horse field and lack of early speed in this race, there's absolutely no concern about the draw for BEER CAN MAN. For him, finishing kick is the kicker. He's never gotten beyond the mid-80s in BRIS late pace figures at any distance. Can he hold off the late rallying rivals under Flavien Prat?

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
BEER CAN MAN is 9-9 in the superfecta lifetime on turf and should be near the pace in what looks to be a modest tempo.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
Don't see any huge prices, but DELAWARE could be left go at an attractive number in the upper single-digits.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$40 exacta box BRAN and DELAWARE ($80). $10 exacta part-wheel BRAN and DELAWARE over BEER CAN MAN ($20).