Qahira gets the call in wide-open Santa Monica

The Grade II, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes anchors the Saturday action at Santa Anita. A field of 11 well-matched fillies and mares will test their mettle over seven furlongs on the main oval.

Post time for the Santa Monica, Race 8 on a nine-race program, is 7:20 p.m. ET.

#5 QAHIRA (4-1) is a horse on the improve for trainer Bob Baffert. She was last seen stalking and scoring in the $75,000 Kalookan Queen Stakes over this course on Jan. 10. QAHIRA beat both AMUSE and #11 BIDDY DUKE that day.

The Santa Monica is a slight step up for QAHIRA, who was second in the Grade III Chillingworth last year, her lone prior graded stakes try. But seven furlongs might be her best distance, and Joel Rosario stays aboard. The speed figures stamp her as a legitimate contender.

#8 AMUSE (8-1) has not been well-beaten by the top choice in their two previous meetings. She was a neck behind QAHIRA in the Chillingworth, and a length back in second in the Kalookan Queen.

AMUSE could turn the tables with an extra half-furlong to work with on Saturday. Drayden Van Dyke should get plenty of pace to close into as well.

#4 HARD NOT TO LOVE (7-2, morning-line favorite) is tough to toss out entirely. She may have lost a step since winning last year’s renewal of the Santa Monica, as she’s lost five straight. But HARD NOT TO LOVE was competing exclusively in routes over the last calendar year, which may not be her best area.

She loves this Santa Anita dirt course (10-5-3-2 record), and lures jockey Juan Hernandez. Don’t be surprised if she defends her Santa Monica title, but don’t take a short price either.

The play: $5 win 5, $3 exacta 5/8, $2 exacta 8/5 ($10)

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