Assuming every mare turns in their best efforts, then the Grade 3, $200,000 La Cañada Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday comes down to two entries in former Grade 1 stakes winners Fighting Mad and Hard Not to Love. Both of them exit good efforts in the local Zenyatta Stakes (G1) last September, giving them a right to fare well here.
But that is also the catch, as Fighting Mad and Hard Not to Love each show a minor 104-day layoff heading into this race. While the break is not insurmountable, neither horse is likely to peak now if a full campaign is planned.
There is one interesting third option: Miss Stormy D.
This might look like an odd option at first. Miss Stormy D shows a fading fourth-place finish in the Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at Los Alamitos last month. In her defense, she ran in that race off a significant 281-day layoff, giving her an excuse.
Go back further in this mare’s form, and she ran two dirt races that stick out, one of them locally on Feb. 29 before the layoff and the other on Dec. 1, 2019.
On Feb. 29, Miss Stormy D led from gate to wire to take a one-mile optional claiming race by an impressive 6 1/4 lengths with only mild handling late.
As for the December 2019 race, she broke her maiden at Del Mar by 3 3/4 lengths after pressing the pace in a six-furlong contest. The winning effort came after six losing attempts on turf.
For the two wins, Miss Stormy D earned a 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the more recent victory and a career-high 120 for the older maiden score.
Disappointingly, she followed up the promising maiden race with two 105s on TimeformUS after crossing the wire fourth and second in her initial attempts at the optional claiming level (although she won the latter race by disqualification). But the fact that Miss Stormy D can pop a bigger number sometimes is a good sign of talent.
For comparison, Hard Not to Love shows a 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure for her runner-up in the Zenyatta, while Fighting Mad was awarded a 120 despite running third because of pace credit. Miss Stormy D’s two best numbers are right in the mix with those figures.
Plus, Mike Smith takes the call on Miss Stormy D for trainer Carla Gaines. Smith’s presence on this mare is interesting because he rode Hard Not to Love for her past seven races.
Given that the public is expected to forget about Miss Stormy D after the distant fourth and that some of her previous best efforts are noteworthy in terms of speed figures, she is playable. Expect this runner to move forward in her second start off the bench at a decent price.
To give credit to Fighting Mad, she won the local Santa Maria Stakes (G2) last May with a 127 TimeformUS Speed Figure and the Clement Hirsch Stakes (G1) in August with a 126, giving her a higher ceiling than the 120 shown in the Zenyatta Stakes.
TimeformUS Pace Projector puts this mare on the lead too, although the pace is not predicted as slow. Miss Stormy D and Sanenus both own speed. Sometimes Bob Baffert-trained runners make the lead easier than expected, though, and find a way to take a breather in the middle.
Obviously, Fighting Mad is capable of winning. The only question is whether Baffert has this mare ready for a top effort, or if it is a stepping stone toward a bigger race. In the latter scenario, she could lose.
Hard Not to Love lost by only 3/4 of a length to Harvest Moon. After looking defeated at the top of the stretch, she made up significant ground late to get back into the picture. For what it is worth, Harvest Moon went on to run a strong fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Cross out Hard Not to Love’s flop in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar. At Santa Anita, this mare is a consistent runner for trainer John Shirreffs with a 9: 5-3-1 local record.
Based on local form, Hard Not to Love is another win contender.
In any case, Fighting Mad, Hard Not to Love and Miss Stormy D deserve spots in multi-race wagers. If Miss Stormy D’s odds float to 8-1 or higher, she might seem attractive as a Win or Place wager. Otherwise, this is a better race to play horizontally.