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Navigating Wednesday's Santa Anita Opener

by Jeremy Plonk

December 23, 2018

Wednesday’s opening day card at Santa Anita includes a late pick five that boasts a quartet of graded stakes races. A 14-horse capacity Grade 1 Malibu highlights the sequence, and it’s a field size of that magnitude that makes this pick five as potentially rewarding as it is daunting. Let’s take it from the top.

The Grade 1 La Brea for 3-year-old fillies opens the sequence. Unbeaten Dream Tree is 5-for-5 and likely closes in the 7-to-5 or 8-to-5 range. The chief challenge comes from Wesley Ward shipper Happy Like A Fool. It’s hard to get beyond 2-deep in this leg.

Sophomore turf milers are up next in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile. French import Sejo makes his first start for John Sadler, while Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen bring the up-and-down Gidu and Combatant west. That trio provides a fresh attack on west coast divisional stalwart River Boyne. He’s been so tough in these ranks all season.

Elder handicap division runners meet in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Battle of Midway appears to have gotten his A-game back after a couple rehearsals off the comeback. He and Dabster rematch off a head decision at Del Mar in the Native Diver. Battle of Midway has done his best running at Santa Anita and figures the stronger of the two this time again. In fact, this would be my single.

The 16 candles on the Grade 1 Malibu cake will be limited to 14, but you have to be impressed with the massive field size collected. McKinzie likely goes favored, but the reduction to 7 furlongs certainly opens the door. Trainer Bob Baffert even sends out reinforcements with Nero, Solomini and Ax Man (not to mention AE Super Sol). Don’t sleep on the talented sprinter Copper Bullet for Steve Asmussen. The recent history of the Malibu has leaned much more to sprinters than the distance sorts looking for a Grade 1 swan song at 3. That’s where I’ll focus.

The finale is a 1-1/8 miles turf allowance with another large field of 12. Deep closer Avalanche has drawn wide in the 12-hole, but with his running style that can be an edge as he avoids all the horses scrumming for position and settles closer to the rail by the clubhouse turn. Horses drawn inside here have the speed and could hook up, setting the table for a closer. I’ll blend the top late runners with the best of the front pack.

Here’s my suggested ticket for Santa Anita’s Wednesday late pick five.

Race 6) #5 Dream Tree, #1 Happy Like a Fool

Race 7) #5 River Boyne, #1 Sejo, #3 Gidu, #10 Shivermetimbers

Race 8) #2 Battle of Midway

Race 9) #3 Copper Bullet, #5 Identity Politics, #8 Nero

Race 10) #12 Avalanche, #9 Red King, #4 Acker

50-cent Pick 5: 5-1 with 5-1-3-10 with 2 with 3-5-8 with 12-9-4 ($36 ticket)