(Hard Not to Love / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team:

Extremely talented but equipped with just one eye due to a paddock mishap as a youngster, Hard Not to Love heads a field of five older fillies and mares going seven furlongs in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita.

Fresh off the best race of her career, a powerful 2 ¼ length win in the Grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs here on Dec. 28, the John Shirreffs-conditioned Hard Not to Love, who due to her sight impairment has proven a handful in both the mornings and afternoons, has won four out of her five starts and seeks her third win in a row on Saturday with Mike Smith aboard.

Bob Baffert’s Mother Mother and the Richard Baltas-trained Lady Ninja ran one-two in the 6 ½ furlong Kalookan Queen Stakes on Jan. 12 and both rate legitimate upset chances at seven furlongs.

HARD NOT TO LOVE

Owner:  Mercedes Stables, LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Dorothy Ingordo, David Ingordo & Steve Mooney
Trainer:  John Shirreffs

In what according to Shirreffs, was a testament to the horsemanship of Mike Smith, Hard Not to Love, a 4-year-old Ontario Canadian-bred filly by Hard Spun, who had been unsettled in the post parade, made a last to first run in the La Brea that was nothing short of tremendous.  “Mike has really made a difference with her,” said Shirreffs.  “When he made the decision to ride her (two starts back in a six furlong allowance Oct. 25), he put his reputation as a horseman on the line.  I think that made this even more special.”  With a solid work tab to her credit since the La Brea win, Hard Not to Love figures to be a short price in the Santa Monica, quirks and all.

MOTHER MOTHER

Owner:  Old Bones Racing Stable, LLC, Barry Hall, Barry Lipman & Mark Mathiesen
Trainer:  Bob Baffert

The leading money earner in the field with $363,061, she comes off a solid 1 ¼ length win over Lady Ninja in the Kalookan Queen and although multiple Grade I stakes placed, she seeks her first graded stakes victory in the Santa Monica.  Ridden by Joel Rosario in her last two starts, which included a third place finish, beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Hard Not to Love in the Grade I La Brea Dec. 28, Mother Mother will be ridden for the first time by Flavien Prat.  Close to the early pace in both of her most recent races, she can be counted on to employ similar tactics on Saturday.  A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, Mother Mother has three seconds and a third from five starts at seven furlongs and is 10-3-3-2 overall.

LADY NINJA

Owner:  Harry Bederian, Harout Kamberian & Hagop Nakkashian
Trainer:  Richard Baltas

A 6-year-old mare by Majesticperfection, she went head and head for the lead in the Kalookan Queen, took control turning for home and tired late to be second, beaten 1 ¼ lengths in a game effort here on Jan. 12.  Ridden by Prat last time, she’ll get the first-time services of Abel Cedillo in the Santa Monica, which will be her second try at seven furlongs.  Off at 2-1 in the Kalookan Queen, she was a well beaten eighth at 22-1 two starts back in the Grade I, seven furlong Breeders’ Cup Filly Mare Sprint here on Nov. 2.  A nose winner of the Grade III, 6 ½ furlong LA Woman Stakes three starts back Oct. 5, Lady Ninja seeks her second graded stakes win in what will be her 25th career start.

THE GRADE II SANTA MONICA STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER

Race 8 of 9  Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT

  1. Road Rager–Aaron Gryder–120
  2. Zusha–Tiago Pereira–120
  3. Lady Ninja–Abel Cedillo–122
  4. Hard Not to Love–Mike Smith–124
  5. Mother Mother–Flavien Prat–120

First post time for a nine-race card on Saturday is at 12:30 p.m.  Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.