02/02/2008 12:15PM

Return of the G(rd)I



Thirty-three days into 2008, Grade 1 racing resumes for the first time since the La Brea at Santa Anita Dec. 29 with today's Donn Handicap at Gulfstream and Santa Monica at Santa Anita. The Santa Monica was supposed to be the first of the year's 108 Grade 1's, but last Sunday's cancellation forced it to be moved to todayy where, as the third of five straight stakes at SA, it is scheduled to go off 53 minutes after the Donn.

5:13 pm ET, GP race 9, G1 Donn Handicap, 4+, 1 1/8 m

Kieran McLaughlin, Daaher's trainer, is using the Donn as a prep for the Dubai World Cup March 29, just as he did last year with Invasor, who won both. Daaher's no Invasor yet, and this Donn field is a bit deeper than the '07 edition, but if he runs as well as he did in the Jerome or Cigar Mile last fall, Daaher's going to be very tough to beat. He's an outlandish 5-2 on the morning line but I'm guessing he'll be more like even-money at post time.

Those inclined to play against him at that price should be doing so on a a premise of pace rather than quality. There's little doubt Daaher's the most talented horse in the race, but he'll either have to gun early to get clear or might find himself engaged by pacepressers Fairbanks and Kiss the Kid. It's hard to see either of them winning both an early battle and the larger war, and the beneficiaries of a lively pace would be Spring at Last and the 1-2 finishers in the Clark, A. P. Arrow and Brass Hat. My plan is to single Daaher on 70 percent of my pick-whatever plays and use those three as tiny backups.

6:06 pm ET, SA race 7, G1 Santa Monica Handicap, 4+ F, 7 furlongs

This field of six has three distinct tiers of entrants: a pair of G1 stakes-winners in Hystrericalady and Pussycat Doll, a pair of ungraded stakes-level grass fillies and a pair of recent N1x graduates. Unless you're from the anything-can-happen-on-Cushion school of handicapping, the top two are the only conceivable winners, with the other four getting an easy shot at G1 black type through the minor awards.

The last time Hystericalady and Pussycat Doll crossed paths was in the Humana Distaff on Derby Day last year, where Hystericalady romped at 7-1 while Pussycat Doll belatedly picked up the pieces for a distant second as the even-money choice. Their careers have gone on different trajectories since that day. Hystericalady came within a neck of being a Breeders' Cup winner and possible divisional champion, while Pussycat Doll has repeatedly floundered against fillies she would have drowned when she was in the top form that won her the '05 La Brea, '06 Humana Distaff and '07 Santa Monica. Hystericalady would be an overlay at her 6-5 morning-line odds, but good luck getting that price.