ARCADIA, Calif.—In what may be the best betting race of the day, trainer Michael McCarthy’s Smooth Like Strait heads a deep and competitive field of 10 older horses in Saturday’s Grade I, $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (turf) at Santa Anita.
A winner of the opening day Mathis Brothers Mile on Dec. 26, Cannon Thoroughbreds’ homebred Smooth Like Strait is a head away from three consecutive graded stakes wins and merits top billing in a close call over recent lights-out Grade III winner Hit the Road.
With a strong local contingent in place, the Kilroe has also attracted five quality eastern shippers, headed by Chad Brown’s Flavius, Todd Pletcher’s Social Paranoia and Mark Casse’s Ride a Comet.
Forwardly placed in nearly all of his races, Smooth Like Strait pressed the early pace set by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court in the Mathis Brothers Mile and went on to a solid three quarter length win at odds of 4-5. With Umberto Rispoli at the controls, Smooth Like Strait won three graded stakes last year, dating back to the Grade III La Jolla Handicap five starts back on Aug. 9.
A gem of consistency, this 4-year-old colt by Midnight Lute out of the Flower Alley mare Smooth as Usual, has been favored in seven out of his last eight starts, including a narrow defeat two starts back in the Grade I Hollywood Derby on Nov. 28 at Del Mar. With three wins and a second from five tries at one mile on turf, Smooth Like Strait is 12-6-2-1 overall with earnings of $577,823.
Idle since winning the restricted one mile turf Oceanside Stakes July 10, trainer Dan Blacker’s Hit the Road unfurled a tremendous stretch run to take the Grade III Thunder Road Stakes over the course by 3 ¾ lengths and left little doubt he has tremendous upside. With a career-best 99 Beyer Speed figure in hand, Hit the Road, a 4-year-old colt by More Than Ready, seeks his fourth consecutive win on Saturday.
Owned by D K Racing, LLC, Radley Equine, Inc., Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold and Dave Odmark, Hit the Road, who had been ridden in his last three starts by Rispoli, will get the first time services of Florent Geroux, as Rispoli, in a very tough call for him and his agent Scotty McClellan, sticks with Smooth Like Strait. With five wins from seven starts at one mile on turf, Hit the Road is five for eight overall with earnings of $254,751.
Second, beaten three quarters of a length at 5-2 in the Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap at Del Mar Nov. 28, Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Flavius would be flattered by a fast Kilroe pace with Flavien Prat aboard for the first time. Two for three in Ireland, this 6-year-old full horse by War Front has one win from six stateside starts, which came in a one mile turf ungraded stakes three starts back at Kentucky Downs Sept. 7.
Fourth, beaten 2 ¾ lengths at 9-1 in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at 1 3/16 miles Jan. 23, millionaire Social Paranoia, who will be ridden for the first time by Abel Cedillo, is unbeaten in three tries at one mile on turf and rates an upset chance as he makes his second Grade I appearance at age five.
A winner of his last four starts, three of them in graded stakes, Ride a Comet, a 6-year-old full horse by Candy Ride, will be reunited with Drayden Van Dyke, who last rode him four starts back, when he orchestrated a come-from-behind victory in the Grade II Del Mar Derby on Sept. 2, 2018.
THE GRADE I FRANK E. KILROE MILE Race 9 of 11 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT
1. Smooth Like Strait—Umberto Rispoli—122
2. Hit the Road—Florent Geroux—122
3. Social Paranoia—Abel Cedillo—122
4. Royal Ship—Mike Smith—120
5. Spirit Animal—Joel Rosario—120
6. Flavius—Flavien Prat—120
7. Casa Creed—John Velazquez—120
8. Count Again—Juan Hernandez—122
9. Ride a Comet—Drayden Van Dyke—122
10. Flying Scotsman—Tyler Baze—120
First post time for an 11-race card that will include four other graded stakes on Saturday is at 12 noon. All of Santa Anita’s races are offered free of charge at santaanita.com/live and fans can wager at 1st.com/bet. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
Photo: Smooth Like Straight (Benoit)