With Under the Stars holding off Awake at Midnyte in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2), a Kentucky Oaks points race, trainer Bob Baffert is on a roll with Derby and Oaks prep races at Santa Anita. Last week, Baffert ran 1-2 in the Sham Stakes (G3) when Newgrange won over Rockefeller.
To credit Under the Stars, the regally bred filly has developed nicely since her career debut last October. Back then, she lost to Awake at Midnyte by 3/4 of a length before fading to third in the Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar and finally breaking her maiden at Los Alamitos last month by three lengths.
In the rematch between Under the Stars and Awake at Midnyte in the Santa Ynez, the extra seasoning possibly made the difference.
Under the Stars, the 4-5 favorite, initially took all the heat as the inside speed in the seven-furlong race. The last time she was the inside speed, she faded at Del Mar. In this case, Under the Stars endured the pressure from Miss Mattie B and Big Shamrock.
Big Shamrock folded by the turn, while Miss Mattie B faded in the stretch.
After putting away her pace opponents, Under the Stars now had to face Awake at Midnyte, who made a wide move on the turn and took aim at the leader. Under urging, Under the Stars met the challenge and kept Awake at Midnyte at bay by a small margin as they neared the wire.
Under the Stars won by 3/4 of a length over Awake at Midnyte for her second career victory and first graded-stakes win. Miss Mattie B was 7 1/4 lengths back in third, while the Cal-bred Big Switch disappointed bettors in fourth.
For readers who love numbers, Under the Stars earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure. As of this writing, the TimeformUS Speed Figure is not in the system. Given the 92 Beyer Figure, though, expect a TimeformUS figure roughly around 110.
The logical next step for Under the Stars is to attempt a route race on the Oaks trail. Although she shows no route experience, based on pedigree she is supposed to stretch out with no problem. This is a Pioneerof the Nile half-sister to 2012 Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister. Regardless, Under the Stars needs to prove herself.
If Under the Stars continues to progress, can she enter the Kentucky Oaks? Churchill Downs has banned Baffert’s horses from earning points on the Derby and Oaks trails. Baffert himself is not permitted to enter horses at Churchill. His good 3-year-olds might need to find a new home soon, at least temporarily.
Otherwise, the future is bright for Under the Stars. She is not Bodemeister yet, but Under the Stars can carve out a nice career for herself.
Awake at Midnyte also ran well in second, as she kept trying all the way until the wire. She already owns one-mile turf route experience from her runner-up finish in the Jimmy Durante Stakes (G3) at Del Mar. In all likelihood, this daughter of Nyquist will not mind stretching out farther.
Miss Mattie B tried her best while fading to third. It is questionable whether she belongs on the Oaks trail. She broke her maiden by 3 3/4 lengths on turf at Del Mar and could benefit from a return to turf.
What happened to the 8-5 second choice, Big Switch? It looks like the step up from Cal-bred racing to a Grade 2 race proved too steep of a climb. When Awake at Midnyte went forward on the turn with a sweeping move and Big Switch did not follow – Big Switch was done.
Big Switch’s speed figure from the Golden State Juvenile Fillies suggested she fit with Under the Stars and Awake at Midnyte, but not every horse carries their best figures with them when they make a switch in company. Switching from Cal-breds to open company is hard.
In any case, Baffert won again with another speed horse at low odds. Perhaps the key in the remaining Derby and Oaks preps at Santa Anita is to bet Baffert on top every single time. Skipping some of these Baffert-dominated prep races and only watching is another option.