Three G1 races are the main attraction on the Memorial Day card at Santa Anita Park, and luckily, our in-house handicapper has covered them all in depth, in addition to making picks for the rest of the card
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The Shoemaker Mile kicks off the G1 action on Memorial Day at Santa Anita Park, with three G1 events in a row to conclude the card. The race also begins an unfortunate theme of me picking short-priced horses, which was an inevitability in this sequence. In the Shoemaker Mile, my top pick is the odds-on morning-line favorite Smooth Like Strait (#2). I’ve been a fan of this horse ever since his commanding win in the War Chant at Churchill Downs last year and he’s made steady progress since then. He has gotten very good trips in two starts in 2021, however it’s clear he’s come back even better as a 4-year-old, and his abundant early speed and tractability is always going to give him a natural advantage. He’s coming out of a much tougher race in the G1 Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard, and I think he’s going to appreciate a return to the West Coast. He’s going to be a heavy favorite, but he’s undoubtedly a very likely winner.
Aside from Smooth Like Strait, the only other horse I have some interest in is Say the Word (#7), who is another favorite of mine. This guy has been terrific since his shocking upset at Saratoga last summer at 51-1, and while he’s probably better going longer than this, he has been successful at a mile in the past. I’m not sure he’s particularly likely to upset Smooth Like Strait, especially if the pace isn’t sufficiently fast, but he’s a very logical horse to use underneath as I expect him to run another strong race.
Race 8 (G1 Hollywood Gold Cup)
The biggest question that needs to be answered in the Hollywood Gold Cup is what to do with the two horses that finished first and second in the G2 Californian, Royal Ship (#1) and Country Grammer (#2). The Californian came back an exceptionally fast race, with both Royal Ship and Country Grammer earning identical 108 Beyer Speed Figures, and those numbers seem to be corroborated by the classy odds-on favorite Independence Hall finishing a distant third, as well as the fourth-place finisher coming back to win a graded stake. The thing that troubles me, however, is that those 108 Beyers came completely out of nowhere for both of these horses, so ideally you’d want to see it again before putting much stock in it. Still, it does feel as though those figures are perfectly legitimate, and a repeat of such a lofty performance would make these two more than a few lengths better than their competition. I’m operating under the assumption that they’re going to run back to that race, and as such Country Grammer is my top pick in the Hollywood Gold Cup. I prefer him to Californian winner Royal Ship because Country Grammer was just getting his year started in that race, whereas Royal Ship already had a race under his belt. There’s also the issue of Bob Baffert, who trains Country Grammer and is a master at pointing horses to big races. Factoring in Country Grammer’s superior consistency, I think everything is aligning in his favor in this spot.
The other horse that merits serious consideration in the Hollywood Gold Cup is Express Train (#7). If the Californian does prove to be an aberration, Express Train is a very likely winner of this race. I’m not going to hold his last race against him at Oaklawn Park, though it does feel more or less like a representative effort from him, and prior to that he came up just short in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap over this track and distance. I’m fully expecting him to deliver a similar effort here, however it does feel as though a mile and a quarter could be a bit too far for him and the winner of that race isn’t anything special. At 2-1 on the morning line, Express Train is probably one to shy away from as he’s going to need serious regression from the top two to make an impact.
Race 9 (G1 Gamely)
At first glance I thought the Gamely would be the race in which we could get a price home, but sadly I think second choice on the morning line Keeper Ofthe Stars (#6) is likely to repeat in this race. It pains me to pick against one of my absolute favorites Charmaine’s Mia (#2), however I have serious concerns that she’s going to be at her best at this distance. Formerly a sprinter on the East Coast and in Canada, Charmaine’s Mia has been transformed into a quality miler for trainer Phil D’Amato, but I’m expecting her to come up a bit short with an additional furlong to navigate.
Keeper Ofthe Stars, meanwhile, is already a proven commodity at this distance and is coming off a solid try against males in the G3 San Francisco at Golden Gate Fields. The San Francisco didn’t feature a stellar field, but it was a considerably better race than this one, and the winner isn’t without a shot earlier on the card in the Shoemaker Mile. Keeper Ofthe Stars followed a similar progression last year when she won the Gamely, and ultimately, with her adaptable running style, I just think she’s the right horse for this race.
*If you're interested in seeing payouts for these races, you can find them on our Results page linked to below*