Weekend Lineup: 2021 Preps For Kentucky Derby, Oaks Get Under Way

One year ago, an Into Mischief colt with just a maiden victory to his credit began his march toward glory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and, eventually, the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic and a likely Horse of the Year title. The colt, Authentic, scored by 7 3/4 lengths in the G3 Sham Stakes as the 6-5 favorite for trainer Bob Baffert.

This year, another son of the Spendthrift Farm stallion trained by Baffert will make his sophomore debut in Saturday’s Sham as an even heavier favorite. Life Is Good, who scored in his debut on Nov. 22 at Del Mar by 9 1/2 lengths, was made the 2-5 favorite as he faces four others (including a stablemate) in the one-mile Sham, a race that will be worth 10-4-2-1 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to the top four finishers.

Santa Anita will also be offering a qualifying points race for the Kentucky Oaks in Sunday’s G2 Santa Ynez Stakes for newly turned 3-year-old fillies. Baffert holds the aces there, with four of the seven runners entered from his stable.

Here’s a brief look at the weekend’s graded stakes (all times Eastern):

Friday, Jan. 1

6:32 p.m. – $200,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita

The new 6 1/2-furlong turf chute gets used in this G2 sprint for older runners and this race looks wide open with trainer Peter Miller and Doug O’Neill each having a formidable duo. Miller starts defending Hernandez winner Texas Wedge (when the race was at 5 1/2 furllongs) and recent Churchill Downs $62,500 claim Hembree, a turf veteran with seven lifetime wins from 39 starts. O’Neill has Blitzkrieg, winner of the G3 American at a mile, and the always dangerous Wildman Jack. Don’t overlook John Sadler-trained Chaos Theory, who usually comes flying late.


Saturday, Jan. 2

6:35 p.m. – $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita

Count Again showed a strong stretch kick winning the G2 Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar Nov. 29 in his Southern California debut for Phil D’Amato after a solid season north of the border for trainer Gail Cox at Woodbine, where he won the G2 Singspiel. Longshot players might like Cleopatra’s Strike, a close second in this race in both 2019 and 2020 when trained by D’Amato. The 8-year-old Smart Strike gelding was claimed for $62,500 last out by trainer Bob Hess Jr., who gives the mount to the comebacking Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux.


7:05 p.m. – $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita

The Into Mischief colt Life Is Good earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut at Del Mar going 6 1/2 furlongs, putting him head and shoulders in that category above his four rivals in here. But this race goes around two turns, and until a horse tries stretching out, you never know whether they can get the added distance.John Shirreffs-trained Parnelli does have two-turn experience and appears to have the bet upset chance.


Sunday, Jan. 3

7:00 p.m. – $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita

One of four Baffert entries, Kalypso was overtaken in deep stretch by stablemate Varda last out in the G1 Starlet at Los Alamitos after inheriting the lead when a third Baffert runner, heavy favorite Princess Noor, was suddenly pulled up. Kalypso set the pace that day and drops back to seven furlongs here, a distance the Brody’s Cause filly might prefer. Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers.


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