Wekeela, Nancy From Nairobi stand out in Gamely Stakes

A talented field of nine has assembled for the Grade I, $300,000 Gamely Stakes, which is the Memorial Day feature at Santa Anita. A 1 and 1/8th mile event for turf fillies and mares, it’ll go as Race 8 on the program with a post time of 5:30 p.m. PST.

Leading the way is east coast invader #6 WEKEELA (9-5, morning-line favorite), who is trained by Chad Brown and will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who makes a rare west coast road trip. WEKEELA ran well in some tough spots in her native France, including a 4th place finish in the Group I Prix de l’Opera, before making her stateside debut last month. She ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Tepin in the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland that day, but she still managed to finish a respectable second. WEKEELA got a strong speed figure for that effort, and she should improve in her second start off an October layoff. That will make her formidable in here.

The horse with the best chance to defend her home court is #1 NANCY FROM NAIROBI (5-2). She enters the Gamely off three straight victories, including an impressive off-the-pace win in the Grade II Royal Heroine Mile last time out. Abel Lezcano is not my favorite rider, but he seems to have developed a nice rapport with this mare since she’s come overseas from Great Britain. NANCY FROM NAIROBI has already beaten several of these and the post will enable her to save ground into the first turn, it’s just a matter of timing the rally and fending off WEKEELA.

Of course we’ll have to look beyond these two to try and make a serious score. #4 FANTICOLA (6-1) will attempt to take them gate-to-wire under Joe Talamo, but she’s given up the lead late far too many times for my liking to consider on top, especially at distances beyond a mile like she’ll face today. I don’t think FANTICOLA will have an easy lead but she shouldn’t have to work too hard early either, and she’s classy enough to stick around for at least a small share.

Finally, #8 ILLUMINANT (5-1) is a candidate for an underneath spot as well. She should be able to work out the stalking trip she wants from this post, lying just off FANTICOLA early. Her first foray into Grade I competition was a solid third, albeit behind top choice WEKEELA, in the Jenny Wiley last month. ILLUMINANT has two wins over this course and Flavien Prat sees fit to ride once more. She’s never gone this far but has handled 1 and 1/16th miles with aplomb, and her pedigree says she should thrive at distances like this.

The play: $5 trifecta 6/1/4,8, $3 trifecta 1/6/4,8, $1 trifecta 1,6/4,8/1,6 ($20)

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