by Dustin Fabian
December 21, 2017
If you’re a horseplayer, odds are you’ve had December 26 circled on your calendar since…well, since you got your calendar. There’s just something magical about Opening Day at The Great Race Place. The time of year certainly helps – the day after Christmas and just before the New Year – but it’s also about the quality of racing and the great wagering opportunities.
Opening Day this year features a superstar showdown between Paradise Woods and Unique Bella in the La Brea, and also showcases the up-and-coming Dabster in the Malibu. The return of Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up, Collected, makes the San Antonio a race you can’t miss, and a wide-open turf field in the Mathis Brothers Mile should put that race in your crosshairs.
First Post at Santa Anita is 3:00PM ET. Here are just a few reasons you should check out the Opening Day card, as well as my picks for the four big stakes races.
Watch the best races with the best broadcast team in horse racing!
XBTV will be live, on-site at Santa Anita on Tuesday as the action unfolds. Tune in to get the latest picks, analysis and interviews from their all-star group, which includes Jeff Siegel, Aaron Vercruysse, Richie Migliore and Millie Ball. Plus, the broadcast will also feature live bonus coverage from Gulfstream Park.
Watch the show at XBTV.com beginning at 2:30PM ET.
Plus, Santa Anita is rolling out its new, bettor-friendly wager menu on Tuesday, which includes the following:
Xpressbet customers can make their wagers count even more on Santa Anita Opening Day with our 2 Million Point Split! Simply register for free and play on Tuesday to win your share.
There are two ways to win:
Race 3 (4:00PM ET) – San Antonio Stakes (Gr II) – 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
#6 Collected (Baffert/Smith) – He beat everyone but Gun Runner home in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which snapped his 4-race win streak. He’s developed into a bona fide superstar in 2017 and doesn’t meet much resistance in this field. He’s a perfect 5-for-5 at Santa Anita and beat Accelerate twice last summer.
#1 Hoppertunity (Baffert/Prat) – Hard to say a bad thing about this horse as he’s won multiple G1s and has bankrolled $4.3 million. Problem is that Collected is simply better and this one’s rallies have been of the ‘too little, too late’ variety lately. He should finish in the discussion, but probably won’t win.
#5 Accelerate (Sadler/Castellano) – Ran a shockingly poor race in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (9th of 10) at 4/1, but should rebound here. Problem is, he’s never been better than Collected and that one simply stands apart in this field. Also worth noting that Accelerate is 0-for-7 at Santa Anita, but has finished in the Tri six times.
Race #6 (5:30PM ET) – Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes (Gr II) – 1 Mile (Turf)
· #8 Big Score (Yakteen/Prat) – It’s been a longtime between drinks for this son of Mr. Big, but he has hit the board 9-of-11 turf stakes, the only exceptions being the G1 Belmont Derby and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2016. This field isn’t as good as those ones and this horse loves the distance (5-2-2-0) – he’s the one to beat with Sharp Samurai not here.
· #1 Kroy (De la Cerda/Castellano) – Expecting this one to go to the lead from his advantageous rail draw and play a game of ‘catch me if you can’ with this field. Most of his rivals are content to sit back and make one run, which could make this son of The Factor awfully dangerous for high-percentage trainer, Armando De la Cerda.
· #5 Bowies Hero (D’Amato/Desormeaux) – This one just always seems to leave himself with too much to do, which could prove the difference today. He’s 3-for-5 at the distance, but has finished behind Big Score in three straight races.
· My Bet - $2 Trifecta Key: Big Score / Kroy, Bowies Hero, Holiday Stone, B Squared, Harbour Master ($40)
Race #7 (6:00PM ET) – La Brea Stakes (Gr I) – 7 Furlongs (Dirt)
· #7 Paradise Woods (Mandella/Prat) – She gets the nod from me because she drew outside of Unique Bella, which gives Prat the ability to put the target on Mike Smith’s back while Paradise Woods stalks, waits and pounces. She ran a strong 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last out.
· #3 Unique Bella (Hollendorfer/Smith) – Has a legitimate excuse for her flop in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (7th), where she went too fast early and got caught wide throughout. Probably wouldn’t have won regardless, but the outside draw and race shape did her in. She’ll run better Tuesday, but is slightly disadvantaged by having drawn inside Paradise Woods.
· #4 Mopotism (O’Neill/Gutierrez) – Have to respect a filly who has earned $405K, despite only two wins, but hard to envision her upsetting this race. She did go on well to finish 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, beaten only 6 ½-lengths at odds of 71/1 and she is one of a few in here who are capable closers.
Race #8 (6:30PM ET) – Malibu Stakes (Gr I) – 7 Furlongs (Dirt)
· #6 Pavel (O’Neill/Gutierrez) – Legitimate Grade 1 talent fields a field lacking in proven stakes horses and should cruise as he cuts back from the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. This is a horse that was beaten just 1 ¾-lengths in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and should win if there is gas left in the tank from a relatively taxing schedule during the second half of 2017.
· #4 Favorable Outcome (Brown /Castellano) – Won the G2 Swale earlier this year and has a favorable mark (4-3-0-1) in dirt races shorter than a mile. He won last out by a neck at the Big A and he’ll need to step up his game, but he has the right connections (Klaravich Stables, Chad Brown) and the experience to do some damage.
· #8 Dabster (Baffert/Prat) – Tough to figure out this Baffert-trainee, as he’s been dismissed at odds of 4/1 and 9/2 twice in three starts. On the other hand, he’s crossed the line first in all three lifetime races (DQ’d to 4th on debut), but I’m taking the wait and see approach this time around.