(Venetian Harbor / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team:

Hard Not to Love, the one-eyed filly who has become the feel-good story of the meet, is favored to win for the fifth time in six career starts when she faces four rivals in Saturday’s Grade II Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs.

Trainer John Shirreffs says the four-year-old bay is “training very well for the race, she looks good and she feels good.”

Hard Not to Love lost her left eye when kicked by another horse as a youngster and has had to deal with that disability, which led to anxiety that has been alleviated thanks to unflagging dedication by Shirreffs and her regular rider, Mike Smith.

“We’ll have to get around that a bit in the post parade,” Shirreffs said. “I’ll see if we can get permission from the stewards to have someone walk with her on the track around the turn and she’ll be OK.”

Dispelling any misconception that Hard Not to Love was named after losing her left eye, Shirreffs clarified that wasn’t the case. Her moniker was derived prior to the accident from a combination of the names of her sire, Hard Spun, and her dam, Loving Vindication.

As to strategy, Shirreffs is hopeful there will be ample pace for Hard Not to Love. “That would help,” he said, “because in the La Brea (a 2 ¼-length win coming from ninth and last), there was a lot of speed and she closed into it.”

Streaking stakes winner Queen Bee to You, who grabbed a quarter winning the La Canada Stakes that caused her to miss the Santa Monica, is scheduled to breeze tomorrow for the Spring Fever Stakes on Feb. 23, which trainer Andrew Lerner hopes will lead to the Grade I Beholder Mile on March 14.

The Santa Monica, race eight of nine with a 12:30 p.m. first post time: Road Rager, Aaron Gryder, 30-1; Zusha, Tiago Pereira, 12-1; Lady Ninja, Abel Cedillo, 2-1; Hard Not to Love, Mike Smith, 6-5; and Mother Mother, Flavien Prat, 8-5.


Santa Anita training leader Richard Baltas has all options open for runaway Las Virgenes Stakes winner Venetian Harbor, but the likelihood is the daughter of Munnings will remain here for the Grade II Santa Anita Oaks on April 4 before heading to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks on May 1.

“We’re nominated for everything, including the Ashland (April 4 at Keeneland),” said Baltas, who leads all trainers with 19 wins through 23 days of the Winter Meet. “But right now, we’re planning on running here. We’ll see how she’s doing.”


Peter Eurton is satisfied with Eclipse champion Storm the Court’s three-year-old debut despite it being a fourth in the San Vicente Stakes last Sunday.

“He got a lot out of that,” the trainer said. “I like how he came out of it, too. We’ll see how he goes and ponder our next race, but it could be four weeks, five weeks (from now). It could be here in the San Felipe (March 7) or possibly the Rebel (March 14 at Oaklawn Park).

“We’ll see how it goes. It’s a long way until the Kentucky Derby (May 2).”

Royal Act, another of Eurton’s Triple Crown hopefuls who was second in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 1, is scheduled to work tomorrow with his next race undetermined.


Following are Santa Anita morning line maker Jon White’s latest Top 10 Kentucky Derby horses: 1. Tiz the Law, 2. Nadal, 3. Thousand Words, 4. Dennis’ Moment, 5. Honor A.P., 6. Authentic, 7. Sole Volante, 8. Maxfield, 9. Storm the Court and 10. Anneau d’Or.

FINISH LINES: Santa Anita’s leading jockey (26 wins) Joel Rosario took off his scheduled two mounts today . . .Thomas Trullier makes his United States riding debut in today’s first race aboard first-time starter Sassy and Hot for trainer Leonard Powell, for whom the 19-year-old Frenchman has been working the past two-and-a-half months. “He won 65 races in France where he was the top apprentice but rides with no weight allowance here,” pointed out bilingual agent Derek Lawson, who represents fellow Frenchman Flavien Prat. Trullier is set to return to France tomorrow . . . Doug O’Neill is back home after a sojourn in Dubai with assistant Leandro Mora, who remains there with a string of O’Neill runners. “It went well and it’s beautiful over there,” O’Neill said, “but Santa Anita is equally as beautiful. We had a good time there, they treated us well, but I’m happy to be back and looking forward to a good week of racing here.” . . . This from Santa Anita linemaker Jon White via Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGeeGot Stormy, fourth as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade III Endeavor at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday, came out of the race in good order and was back at Ocala with Mark Casse. The trainer said he would soon be sending her to Palm Meadows, where she would prepare for a start against males in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf at Santa Anita March 7 . . . Bob Baedeker of Live Your Dream Racing Stable and Thoroughbred owner Alfred “Sonny” Pais will be Tom Quigley‘s guests, Saturday and Sunday respectively, 11:20 a.m. in the XBTV studio . . . Congrats to trainer Paddy Gallagher, who ended an oh for 15 schneid with three winners Sunday . . . No joke!! Santa Anita’s inaugural “That’s a Stretch” comedy event, to be hosted by Hornblower Jay Cohen in the Chandelier Room Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m., is completely sold out . . . There will be special holiday racing on Presidents’ Day, Monday, which also is Dollar Day, with beer and soda on sale for a buck apiece and hot dogs for $2. First post time is 12:30 p.m.