After starring last winter at Santa Anita with back-to-back victories in the Grade 1 La Brea and Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes, Hard Not to Love will open her 5-year-old season on Saturday with a new jockey and a familiar rival in the $200,000 La Canada (G3).
Hard Not to Love is 2-to-1 on the morning line for the La Canada, just behind 9-to-5 Fighting Mad. The duo will face each other for the fourth race in a row: Fighting Mad sped to frontrunning wins in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar and Grade 2 Santa Maria at Santa Anita, while Hard Not to Love finished second, one spot ahead of Fighting Mad, last time out in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. The winner that day, Harvest Moon, went on to finish a solid fourth in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November.
Ricky Gonzalez takes the reins on Hard Not to Love, in place of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, with trainer John Shirreffs figuring it was time to change things up with the sometimes quirky mare. Gonzalez capped a breakthrough 2020 season by winning the La Brea on December 26 and he worked Hard Not to Love on January 1 at Santa Anita.