Trio of Grade Ones Highlight Holiday Stakes Action Monday

Gold Phoenix | Benoit

Santa Anita will play host to three Grade I races, while Grade III action features the return of a champion at Churchill Downs and a talented Louisiana-bred attempting to make the grade at Lone Star Park during holiday stakes action Monday.

The GI Shoemaker Mile S. at Santa Anita is set to be the first of 41 Breeders' Cup Challenge series races in North America this year. A field of 11 goes postward seeking the winner's share of the $500,000, as well as an automatic berth in the GI Breeders' Cup FanDuel Mile, which will be held over the same course in November.

Trainer Phil D'Amato saddles three in the race, including morning-line favorite Hong Kong Harry (Ire) (Es Que Love {Ire}), who was a three-time graded winner in California last year. He was fourth behind reopposing stablemate Gold Phoenix (Ire) (Belardo {Ire}) in the Mar. 4 GI Frank Kilroe Mile before heading east for a runner-up effort in the May 6 GI Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

Gold Phoenix, who was 10th in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf, returned from his win in the Kilroe Mile to finish fourth when stretched to 1 1/4 miles for the Apr. 8 GII Charles Whittingham S. last time out. Unbeaten in two tries at a mile on grass, Gold Phoenix will be reunited with Japanese sensation Kazushi Kimura, who has been aboard for his last two starts and will fly in from his Toronto base for the ride Sunday.

Rounding out the D'Amato trio–who were all plundered from Europe to find graded success in the U.S.–is Balnikhov (Ire) (Adaay {Ire}), who was seventh in the Kilroe Mile before getting up in the last jump to win the Apr. 29 GIII San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate in his most recent start.

Both Gold Phoenix and Balnikhov represent the red-hot Little Red Feather partnership, which won four stakes last weekend.

An hour before the Shoemaker Mile, seven older fillies and mares head postward at Santa Anita for the GI Gamely S. Trainer Michael McCarthy will saddle morning-line favorite Queen Goddess (Empire Maker). The 5-year-old raced last year for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and her breeder TOLO Thoroughbreds and, after selling for $1.525 million at Fasig-Tipton last November, returned for the partnership of Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Gary Barber to win the GIII Robert J. Frankel S. last December. She added a win in the GIII TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational at Gulfstream in January and returns to the West Coast following a sixth-place effort in the Apr. 15 GI Jenny Wiley S. at Keeneland.

D'Amato has two chances in the nine-furlong Gamely, with School Dance (Animal Kingdom) and Macadamia (Brz) (Hat Trick {Jpn}) in the line-up.

The GI Gold Cup concludes the Grade I action at Santa Anita Monday. Trainer Bob Baffert holds a strong hand in the 1 1/4-mile race with Country Grammer (Tonalist) and Defunded (Dialed In) appearing to tower over the six-horse field. Country Grammer, second in the Feb. 25 G1 Saudi Cup, will look to get back on track following a seventh-place effort while attempting a defense of his title in the G1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March. Defunded had to settle for third after setting the pace over this track and trip in the Mar. 4 GI Santa Anita H., but returned to the winner's circle with a three-length tally in the Apr. 22 GII Californian S. last time out.

In other graded stakes action across the country, champion Echo Zulu (Gun Runner) makes her return to the races in the GIII Winning Colors S. at Churchill Downs. Champion 2-year-old filly of 2021, the 4-year-old has been off since finishing second in the GI Breeders' Cup F/M Sprint last November at Keeneland.

Touchuponastar (Star Guitar) looks for his seventh straight victory in the GIII Steve Sexton Mile S. at Lone Star Park. The Louisiana-bred, trained by Jeff Delhomme, will be making his first start outside state-bred company. The 4-year-old's toughest competition might be the Mike Maker-trained 7-year-old Endorsed (Medaglia d'Oro), who won a pair of one-mile graded events at Gulfstream this past winter.

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