By Emily Shields
The first stakes race in California for 2021 is the $200,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes (G2) on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita Park. The six-and-a-half-furlong turf sprint drew 11 horses, but the field is down to 10 with the scratch of Oiseau de Guerre. TVG.com is the best place to bet Santa Anita racing online.
Defending champion Texas Wedge drew the rail. The six-year-old son of Colonel John won two stakes in a row last year, including the World of Trouble at Gulfstream Park, but has not won since. He is coming off a head loss behind today’s rival Chaos Theory in a November 20 allowance at Del Mar. Flavien Prat will be up for Peter Miller.
This field is quite tough, with #7 Wildman Jack pegged as the favorite. He has won four of 12 starts and been first or second in all three of his tries on this course. He was a Grade 3 winner here last May after winning impressively in Dubai last March. Most recently, the son of Goldencents was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), but he was beaten just three lengths for the win. Abel Cedillo will ride.
Chaos Theory has drawn alongside. The son of Curlin is coming off that win over Texas Wedge last out, and gets Umberto Rispoli back aboard. He was fourth in Grade 2 company at Keeneland in October after winning a Grade 3 sprint at Del Mar in August. He was three for five in 2020, but has yet to run over this course.
Encoder returns off a lengthy layoff; the son of English Channel has not run since February 1. John Sadler trains the newly-turned four-year-old, who was twice a stakes winner as a juvenile including the Eddie Logan over this track, but ran fifth in his dirt debut in Derby prep company and has not been seen since. Tyler Baze will be aboard for the first time, and there is a steady stream of workouts leading up to this spot.
True Valour (Ire) rounds out the top contenders. Graham Motion took over with the seven-year-old entire by Kodiac (GB) in the fall, after he had been running for Simon Callaghan. True Valour has twice won on this course and overall has been top three in 16 of his 29 starts. He was eighth in this race last year, but is a Grade 2 winner here over a mile.
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