12/23/2015 4:07PM

Illman: Santa Anita pick four for Saturday, Dec. 26


It’s opening day at Santa Anita, and the nine-race card is chock-full of competitive races. The late pick four sequence boasts tons of quality, with three graded stakes and a salty allowance. Here are some thoughts:

Race 6
OM (10), the likely favorite for the Mathis Brothers Mile, enters following three 97-Beyer efforts. A colt who might be best when allowed to dictate terms, he was forced to chase ACCEPTANCE (7) in the Hollywood Derby, might have moved a bit early to confront that free-running foe, and still held very gamely for third. His best race is obviously good enough to win this, and he should appreciate cutting back in distance. The problem is that Acceptance is also entered, and Om likely will have to sit off that one once again.

If Om is vulnerable late, I’ll also use PROFESSOR BERNS (4), a gelding who overcame some traffic to run down a lonely leader at big odds Nov. 7; SOUL DRIVER (5), a late kicker who gets back to his preferred distance; and FUELED BY BOURBON (12), a Peter Miller trainee rounding into form. Deeper tickets might want to include MISTER BRIGHTSIDE (6), who had significant trouble in the Hollywood Derby and never had a chance to strut his stuff.

Race 7
CAVORTING (3), the beaten favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, was far from disgraced in that race after breaking from post 14. She drops in with straight 3-year-olds and looks very tough in the Grade 1 La Brea.

My backup is BEN’S DUCHESS (6), who has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in two of her last three races. Ben’s Duchess did have a picture-perfect setup when winning the Grade 3 L.A. Woman Stakes on Oct. 4, however, and might not get a similar race flow here. Wider plays should include HOT CITY GIRL (2), who rides a three-race win streak and could be the controlling speed under Jose Ortiz.

Race 8
The Malibu goes through Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner RUNHAPPY (4). He is simply the fastest horse in the race and could shake loose in the opening furlong. I can’t let him knock me out of the bet at a short price, but I also think that MARKING (2) is ready to run a huge one for Kiaran McLaughlin. Unbeaten from two starts, Marking takes a big step up in class but has shown some serious talent in New York. He has more tactical speed than his uncoupled stablemate WATERSHED (3) and might get the jump on that one turning for home.

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Race 9
Perhaps I should be more forgiving of TALE OF LIFE (4)’s last two races (wet turf both times), but I just didn’t like the way he finished last time and will try to beat him as the morning-line favorite in the finale. SECOND SUMMER (9) was shuffled at a crucial juncture of an entry-level allowance at Del Mar on Nov. 28 but finished with gusto and appears to be moving the right way for Peter Eurton. That race also produced HUNT (5, finished second, kicks strongly late), ITSINTHEPOST (6, rallied nicely along the inside), ECKERSLEY (8, might have moved a bit too soon, lightly raced with upside) and WHAT A VIEW (11, the potential speed of this race). UNUSUALLY GREEN (10) has a bad case of the seconds but has races good enough to take this.

Best of luck!

Base bet = 50 cents
Budget = $70
Race 6
A – 4,5,10
B – 12
Race 7
A – 3
C – 6
Race 8
A – 2,4
Race 9
A – 5,6,8,9
B – 10,11