The field for the $200,000, Grade 3 La Canada Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita Park consists of seven mares, most of whom have made their mark in similar stakes recently.
The top earner in the field is Hard Not to Love, who won the one-turn Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes 11 months ago, and has three runner-up finishes in graded stakes since. Most recently, she was second in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes last fall. Fighting Mad is a two-time Grade 1 stakes winner, having captured the Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita last May, as well as the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes last August at Del Mar. Both of those races were at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as the La Canada. Proud Emma just won the Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes at this distance at Los Alamitos last month, with Message finishing second and Miss Stormy D fourth. Never Be Enough is a new face in the older female dirt division, running on conventional dirt for the first time after eight races on turf or all-weather surfaces in the United States. Last year, she came to the U.S. from Great Britain. Sanenus rounds out the field, coming off a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs in November.
Although she has never run a race on a conventional dirt surface, I believe Never Be Enough can run well enough to post the upset in this year’s La Canada Stakes. This hard-knocking mare leads the field by far in career starts with 29, having won seven of them and finishing second in five others. She posted a 4-for-10 record in 2020. Shipping from trainer Manuel Badilla’s Golden Gate Fields base last fall, Never Be Enough won the Kathryn Crosby Stakes (111 Equibase Speed Figure) on turf at Del Mar. Two races later, she closed strongly late and ended up second in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes, ending up beaten just three-quarters of a length at the end by Mucho Unusual, a Grade 1 stakes winner. That 111 figure matches up perfectly with the 112 figure Fighting Mad earned winning the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, and with the 112 figure Hard Not to Love earned when second in the Santa Maria Stakes. As such, if Never Be Enough can transfer her form to the main track, she could run well enough to win this race.
Fighting Mad hasn’t been seen since finishing third as the prohibitive favorite in the Zenyatta Stakes last September. After that disappointing effort, she skipped the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and took time off to prepare for her 5-year-old campaign. Prior to that, Fighting Mad led from start to finish and dominated against small fields in the Santa Maria Stakes (117 figure) and Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (112 figure). In the La Canada, I expect Fighting Mad to secure the lead at the start and try to control the pace, which is certainly possible. However, horses like Message, Sanenus and Miss Stormy D may also want to be on or near the pace, which may cause Fighting Mad to run more like she did in the Zenyatta when passed late in the stretch.
Proud Emma just won the Bayakoa Stakes at Los Alamitos with a 104 figure. Three races before that, she won the Tranquility Lake Stakes with a 105 figure. In both races, Proud Emma closed from off the pace. In this spot, she has a chance to save ground from the rail and close into the pacesetters in the stretch. However, she would have to improve her top Equibase Speed Figures a few points in order to win.
Hard Not to Love is certainly a contender, but she is not my top choice in the La Canada. She has managed second in three of her four two-turn races, but all were in short fields of six or less. Her top Equibase Speed Figure is a 112, earned when second in the Santa Maria. However, Fighting Mad won that race after leading from the start, and that scenario could happen again in this race.
The rest of the La Canada Stakes field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Message (111), Miss Stormy D (111) and Sanenus (97).
Win Contenders, in preference order:
Never Be Enough