by Jeremy Plonk
March 10, 2022
GRADE 3 $125,000 SAN LUIS REY STAKES AT SANTA ANITA
After a $334 score in this space last week for the Big 'Cap, we'll keep it at Santa Anita for this week's featured race. The Grade 3 $125,000 San Luis Rey Stakes is at 1-1/2 miles on turf, and it's a race that surprisingly has eluded the trainers in this year's field. That changes Saturday in Race 9 to conclude the card, and it's our job to figure out who takes home the trophy for the first time.
G1 winners SAY THE WORD and HENLEY'S JOY are joined by G2 victors RED KING, ACCLIMATE and AWARD WINNER in a race much deeper than its G3 moniker. The remaining quartet will have a serious class challenge to overcome this group of accomplished foes.
ACCLIMATE has been the west coast turf marathon pace for years and nothing likely changes Saturday. He'll get company up front from AWARD WINNER and insure a fair pace, while DICEY MO CHARA on the stretch-out could sit third or apply a bit more pressure. This pace should be fair to mid-pack and closers.
SAY THE WORD was a narrow runner-up in this race last year to the classy United and his 1-1/2 miles turf record speaks volumes vs. these. He's 6: 3-2-1 over a trip that the other 8 starters are a woeful 15: 0-1-2 combined. As class tends to shine and prevail the longer they run, in general, coupling SAY THE WORD's class with his distance acumen looks like a strong bond in this race. He's the heavy lean under Flavien Prat, who has ridden the San Luis Rey Stakes winner the past 2 years and seeks the hat trick.
Chances are, if you're going to beat SAY THE WORD, it's with an opposite running style. United dueled ACCLIMATE in this race last year when SAY THE WORD couldn't get to him. If that's the case, then AWARD WINNER stands the best upset chance. He'll be right up on the mix with ACCLIMATE and has been freshened since November's Hollywood Turf Cup when fourth behind those 2 return rivals. Jockey Juan Hernandez has been riding well all meet and should have AWARD WINNER in position if he's ready and good enough.
HENLEY'S JOY is the X-factor. The $1.1 million earner won the G1 Belmont Derby Invitational in 2019, but went winless in 2020 and 2021. In fact, he's lost 17 races in a row since that signature career victory. Those Ls came for trainers MIke Maker and Steve Asmussen; this will be his first attempt since coming west to the barn of Richard Baltas, who has been SoCal's top long-distance grass barn in recent years. His morning moves watched at XBTV.com have all been on the SA training track, so there's uncertainty how he'll adapt to grass here.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
SAY THE WORD relishes the trip that the others have yet to conquer.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
OFFLEE NAUGHTY has only made 7 starts, so his ceiling may be less realized than many of these 6 and 8-year-old veterans. He partner with John Velazquez, and that never hurts your chances.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$100 win SAY THE WORD. If the price drops too short to play straight up for your liking, work AWARD WINNER underneath in exactas.