01/17/2014 3:38PM

Jay Hovdey: La Canada last chance before big girls get started


As long as Beholder, Princess of Sylmar, and Close Hatches are still in the barn, awaiting their first appearances of 2014, it is safe for the rest of the 4-year-old filly generation to come out and play.

Seven of them will run Sunday at Santa Anita Park in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes. Some of the names are even familiar. Broken Sword, a daughter of Broken Vow, put it all together to win the Bayakoa Stakes at Hollywood Park in December, while Fiftyshadesofhay, who was second that day, had an even better second-place finish to Princess of Sylmar in the Alabama, in addition to winning the Santa Ysabel, the Black-Eyed Susan, and the Iowa Oaks.

The other five are still works in progress, but they’d better hurry if they are going to make a local impact. Beholder is in the wings, refreshed after her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last fall.

As recently as 2011 the La Canada called for nine furlongs, and under those conditions it was won over the years by the likes of Glorious Song, Lady’s Secret, Goodbye Halo, Manistique, Spain, and Zenyatta’s big sister Balance.

Now the La Canada has essentially replaced the El Encino Stakes, formerly its companion event for 4-year-old fillies, and is run at 1 1/16 miles. The difference does not seem like a big deal – about the length of a football field – until you consider all that can happen in the last 110 yards of any Thoroughbred horse race.

No matter what the distance, though, handicapping races in California’s age of synthetic surfaces has become a high art form. Add to that the growing trend of horses from San Francisco commingling at top levels with their L.A. counterparts – courtesy of trainers like Jerry Hollendorfer and Jeff Bonde – and you have a challenge like the one presented in the La Canada.

Fiftyshadesofhay is proven on dirt at this class level and distance. Broken Sword has raced on dirt only once in eight starts and won a maiden sprint at Pleasanton by 11 lengths. Oscar Party is primarily a turf filly who was good enough to finish second on dirt in the Indiana Oaks to Pure Fun. Rathbaun comes off a win over Hollywood Park’s synthetics, but it’s possible she has never set foot on dirt outside her shed row, racing or training. Also, she was not embarrassed by Broken Sword up north.

Let Faith Arise, who breaks from the rail under Corey Nakatani, has won four of her seven starts during a career that began just 11 months ago. She is a daughter of Kafwain, a son of Cherokee Run who holds court at the Tommy Town Thoroughbreds establishment of Tom and Debi Stull.

Nestled in a valley to the east of Santa Ynez, just up the road from Lake Cachuma, Tommy Town’s 365 acres leads the way as California’s most consistent producer of runners and winners. In 2013, the farm topped the earnings list for California breeders for the third time in the last five years with just shy of $3 million in purse earnings. The total was good enough for 17th place nationally.

In a perfect world, Tommy Town would be represented in the La Canada by their homebred Hollywood Oaks winner, Doinhardtimeagain. The daughter of Minister’s Wild Cat won two other minor stakes in 2013 and was last seen finishing off the board in the Del Mar Oaks in August.

“She’s here at the farm,” said Mike Allen, Tommy Town’s farm manager. “She had a sore shoulder, though we really didn’t find a fracture for sure. So we decided just to back off and give her some time. It’s a fact of life that the good ones sometimes run hard enough to injure themselves. Hopefully, she’ll be back in time for Del Mar.”

Let Faith Arise contributed only about $90,000 of the 2013 Tommy Town total, the biggest portion coming from her win in the California Wine Stakes at Pleasanton last June. Then she disappeared.

“She had pneumonia,” Allen said. “We got lucky and she was able to get over that, and now she’s come back good and healthy.”

Let Faith Arise returned on the undercard of the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup program at Santa Anita with an eighth-place finish in the Ken Maddy Stakes that was better than it looked. More recently, she has been training lights out on the dirt at Santa Anita for Hollendorfer.

“It’s a tough spot for a horse coming back like she is,” Allen said. “But Jerry thinks a lot of her, and he wouldn’t have her in there if he didn’t think she had some kind of chance.”

The distance of the current La Canada can only help Let Faith Arise, since the 6 1/2 furlongs of the Maddy is the farthest she’s ever run. And that was downhill on the grass.

“She’s a fast filly all right,” Allen said. “She always has been. We’ll find out a lot about her on Sunday.”