Saturday features the X-Country Pick 4, a $500,000 guaranteed, all-graded-stakes $0.50 Pick 4 featuring high-profile races at both Santa Anita and Gulfstream. The west coast races include the San Antonio Invitational Stakes (GII) for the handicap division and the San Marcos Stakes (GII) for the grassy set. The pair of east coast races are also split similarly: the Donn Handicap (GI) on the dirt, and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (GI) on the grass. Paul Mazur previewed the Gulfstream pair at Picks and Ponderings.
In addition to the races that are part of the X-Country Pick 4, Santa Anita has one other graded stakes race on the calendar: the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII), a three-year-olds' race with Kentucky Derby points at stake. The Lewis is one of two Derby points races this weekend. The Withers Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct also awards Derby points; Paul Mazur previews the Withers.
This preview covers all three graded stakes races on Saturday's Santa Anita card: the San Antonio, the San Marcos, and the Lewis.
All four races in the X-Country Pick 4 will be televised on Fox Sports 1 from 5:30pm-7:30pm EST on Saturday, February 7. Horse Racing Radio Network will provide audio coverage of all four races as well, over the same two-hour window. Full video streaming for this card, and every race day from Santa Anita, is available for free at Cal Racing.
All races in this preview are scheduled for Saturday, February 7 at Santa Anita Park. Selections in the San Marcos are for turf only. The San Marcos preview was updated on February 6 in light of the planned scratch of Quadrivium. The Robert B. Lewis preview was updated on February 7 in light of the scratch of Sebastian's Heart.
Race 5: Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:30pm PST
This year marks the 77th running of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Previously christened the Santa Catalina Stakes, the race was renamed in 2007 to honour Robert B. Lewis (1924-2006). A beer salesman and distributor by trade, Robert Lewis and his wife Beverly (herself a stakes namesake at Los Alamitos) became Thoroughbred owners in 1990. Two of their horses won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes: Silver Charm in 1997, and Charismatic in 1999. Both Silver Charm and Charismatic won the Eclipse Award for Champion Three Year Old Male. They also owned four other Eclipse-winning horses: Timber Country (1994 Champion Two Year Old Male), Serena's Song (1995 Champion Three Year Old Female), Orientate (2002 Champion Sprinter), and Folklore (2005 Champion Two Year Old Female).
The race has been restricted to three-year-olds since 1964. It has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: Ferdinand (1986) and I'll Have Another (2012). This race was also the first stakes win for both Sham (1973), famously second behind Secretariat in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as well as 1999 Champion Sprinter Artax (1998). The 2015 renewal features a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers.
This year's edition of the Lewis drew a field of just six, and a pair of heavyweights looms large: DORTMUND and FIRING LINE. This pair constituted two-thirds of the blanket finish in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI), and both have been on the shelf since then. Joining them this time out are ROCK SHANDY and HERO TEN ALL wheeling back from the Sham (GIII), SEBASTIAN'S HEART on the return to dirt, and TIZCANO trying graded company for the first time. FIRING LINE gets a jockey change to Gary Stevens, who has been firing at 20% on this Santa Anita meet and should fit his style well. He will be forwardly placed, though he has shown the ability to be either right on the fractions or stalk off of them. That versatility is nice, since ROCK SHANDY does his best work from right on the front, and TIZCANO could be up there as well. Still, if he gets some pressure, FIRING LINE should have the stamina to stick it out. He endured a protracted speed duel with Mr. Z in the Los Alamitos Futurity, at this same distance, and was just nailed at the wire by DORTMUND. Again this time, DORTMUND stands to chase fairly close to the pace, and his late kick should be sharp enough to pose a serious threat. He showed in his first two outings that he could stalk, pounce, and win clear -- but showed in that Los Alamitos Futurity that he could gut out a win if he needs. Martin Garcia returns to the irons after all three starts, and Bob Baffert seems to have found his mojo again after a freezing cold beginning of the Santa Anita meet. The choice of who to put on top, FIRING LINE or DORTMUND, was almost a coin flip. Both of these come in with an excellent chance. The nod goes to FIRING LINE on likely price alone: he will likely go off at a slightly longer price than the more ballyhooed DORTMUND, which makes him a bit more attractive for a win bet. On a multi-race, covering that pair makes sense.
Behind them, it was a close call between ROCK SHANDY and HERO TEN ALL. With so much of the field liking to be near the lead, HERO TEN ALL looked a bit attractive. Still, his failure to fire in the Sham Stakes combined with his somewhat subpar speed make his ability to handle this race (a tougher Grade III than the Sham was) questionable. Instead, consider Rock Shandy. He broke his maiden on the front, and showed enough tenacity to re-rally for the win after being headed that time out. The Sham was his first attempt on dirt; he fired a career-high Brisnet figure in that effort, and stayed interested enough in the race to get home second despite being clearly beaten by Calculator that day. He gets rider Victor Espinoza back from both his maiden win and that Sham effort, and they should be able to fight gamely enough late to hit the board with FIRING LINE and DORTMUND.
#5 FIRING LINE (7/5)
#6 DORTMUND (4/5)
#2 ROCK SHANDY (6/1)
Longshot: With the defection of SEBASTIAN'S HEART, the race has scratched down to five horses, and zero longshots.
Race 7: San Marcos Stakes (GII), four-year-olds and up, one and one fourth miles on the turf, post time 3:30 PST
This year the San Marcos Stakes will be run for the 63rd time. Originally a one-mile handicap race over the main track, it was moved to the grass in 1954. It has since been run at 1 1/4 miles, with the exception of 1978 when it was run at 1 1/8 miles. In 2000, the race shifted from handicap conditions to stakes conditions. Four Hall of Fame inductees have won the San Marcos during their careers: Hill Prince (winner of the first San Marcos Stakes in 1952), Round Table (1959), Cougar II (1971), and John Henry (1980). Other notable winners of the San Marcos include Sandpit (1997), who finished in the money in three consecutive runnings of the Arlington Million (1995-1997), and Slim Shadey (2012-2013), the only horse to win twice. This year's renewal of the San Marcos features a $200,000 purse, and drew a field of nine older turf males.
Two-time Arlington Million (GI) winner John Henry makes a frontrunning score in the 1980 San Marcos Handicap.
After a two-year win drought, a win in the Arlington Handicap (GIII) and a switch to the barn of Peter Miller have turned FINNEGANS WAKE into a new horse. Though the Breeders' Cup Turf (GI) proved to be a bit over his head, he has emerged as a solid Grade II level turf hors, finishing 2nd in the John Henry Turf Classic last year, and rattling off wins in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) and the San Gabriel Stakes (GII) in his last two starts. He gets Victor Espinoza back in the irons, who rode him to victory in both of those recent starts, as well as the Arlington Handicap. He has hit the board in five of eight runs at the distance; ten furlongs should suit this son of Powerscourt just fine. The biggest question surrounding FINNEGANS WAKE is the pace. LITTLE JERRY is the only dyed-in-the-wool speed horse in the field, which means the typically closing FINNEGANS WAKE may not have much to run at. He is not without outs here: PATRIOTICANDPROUD, POWER PED, and even POWER FOOT may give enough pressure to give the race some pace; failing that, FINNEGANS WAKE showed in his Arlington Handicap win that even he could adapt and stalk the pace if no one else would. Still, the odds are that he will close, and taking chalk when the pace scenario looks this questionable is difficult. Enter DYNAMIC SKY. His previous race record may have suggested he liked softer turf better, something he will not get at Santa Anita. However, he finished beaten just two lengths last out, after being caught behind a wall of horses until a few strides before the wire. Last out he was farther off the lead than he may want to be in the San Marcos, but two starts back he won the Red Smith (GIII) from closer to the pace, and he has more of a history of running closer to the pace than FINNEGANS WAKE. It looks likely that either DYNAMIC SKY or FINNEGANS WAKE will win this race; with a slightly better likely pace, combined with likely better odds after the sixth-place finish last out, DYNAMIC SKY gets the nod. POWER FOOT just turned six, but is showing the form of his life. He comes into this race third off the lay for trainer Neil Drysdale, 20% in that circumstance. Last out, he prevailed by a nose in a 1 1/2 mile allowance optional. Both of his starts since the lay have been at that twelve-furlong distance; two back, he was fourth in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII). He has a win going ten furlongs over the Santa Anita grass before, and should be able to handle the turnback. Pacewise, he has shown versatility. He does not set the fractions, but has run good races both stalking fairly close to it, or farther back. This should give Kieran Fallon flexibility to judge his placing based on how hard LITTLE JERRY is being pressed early. POWER FOOT should go off at a price, and his recent form should at least be enough to spice up intra-race exotics.
PATRIOTICANDPROUD deserves a mention. He probably will not win this race, but he likely will hit the board. His recent speeds have been competitive compared to what this field can show, and he has hit the board in Grade II company in his last two starts. He finished just a neck short of Finnegans Wake at 1 1/2 miles two back in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII), and has run well going ten furlongs on polytrack in the past. The 27-4-10-4 lifetime line makes him less than exciting as a win prospect, but he has proven himself to be one of those horses who can keep on and hit the board whether the bettors remember he is in the field or not. Unfortunately, he will not be the boxcar odds he has been in his last two starts, but PATRIOTICANDPROUD's form makes him a logical key for intrarace exotics.
#8 DYNAMIC SKY (3/1)
#1 FINNEGANS WAKE (5/2)
#9 POWER FOOT (8/1)
Longshot: There are a few in the field who could possibly send, but only one who looks quite sure to: #5 LITTLE JERRY (12/1). He was fifth two starts back in his only previous graded attempt on the green stuff, but that was at a mile and a half in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII). Here he dials back to a mile and a quarter. That may still be a bit too long, but keep in mind that LITTLE JERRY did not have the early lead in the Hollywood Turf Cup -- that belonged to the runaway Mystery Train. He is a solid allowance-level runner, and wored a 1 1/8 mile allowance optional over the Santa Anita grass four starts back. He did that with Edwin Maldonado aboard; Maldonado returns today. LITTLE JERRY is not the same class as most of this field, and will need a lot of help. However, his early pace compares favourably with this crowd, and he is the only real speed horse. As such, he could very well get the exact sort of help he needs.
Race 8: San Antonio Invitational Stakes (GII), four-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 4:00pm PST
The San Antonio Stakes will be run for the 77th time this year. Inaugurated in 1935, the race has been contested at 1 1/8 miles every year except for 1940 and 1941, when it was run at 1 1/16 miles. At least in mainstream circles, the best known winner of the San Antonio is 1940 winner Seabiscuit, who also finished second in the race in 1938. In addition to Seabiscuit, other Hall of Fame inductees to have won this race include Round Table (1958), Gun Bow (1964-1965), Ack Ack (1971), Ancient Title (1977), and Best Pal (1995). In addition to Gun Bow, two other horses have won this race twice: Gentlemen (1997-1998) and Game On Dude (2012-2013). In addition, there has been one winner of local interest. Farma Way, not himself Illinois-bred but owned by Quarter B Farm (the same in-state connections who owned Illinois-bred Eclipse Champion Buck's Boy) won this race in 1991.
This race, a $500,000 affair for the handicap division, has been billed as the clash of the titans: SHARED BELIEF and CALIFORNIA CHROME, squaring off for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) last year. Originally Bayern had been billed as a likely part of the mix as well, but some foot issues have set him aside. Instead, one of Bayern's marquee stablemates joined the fray: instead of shipping out to race in the Donn (GI), HOPPERTUNITY surfaces in the San Antonio. In addition to this trio the field drew a few who are trying to find their place in the handicap division (TONITO M., BRONZO), a runner whose best days look past (CLUBHOUSE RIDE) some runners who occasionally flash form in stakes company (IMPERATIVE, YOU KNOW I KNOW), and an ambitious speedster trying stakes for the first time (ALFA BIRD).
Without Bayern in the race, there is very little in the way of horses who really like to set the early fractions: ALFA BIRD has done his best work right on the front, and CALIFORNIA CHROME tends to be on or very near the early fractions. Combine the likely friendly pace scenario with the fact that he loves the Santa Anita dirt, and CALIFORNIA CHROME looks strong here. He has not missed the board over the Santa Anita dirt since he was a juvenile, and the track does tend to favour runners who are forwardly placed early. He has been working regularly (and long!) since the Hollywood Derby (GI) last out, and should be in good form to return to dirt and tougher company this time out. In a race with several eminently classy competitors, he has the most going for him. SHARED BELIEF is a tough customer, and has shown some pace versatility. However, he only tends to default to the lead, and only tends to be particularly close to the pace when he defaults there -- when he is running against slower horses. CALIFORNIA CHROME and HOPPERTUNITY are not those slower horses, and even front-end ALFA BIRD's class has yet to be truly tested. SHARED BELIEF seems most likely to be charging in late, but will likely start from a handful of lengths off. His win last out in the Malibu was franked last weekend when Conquest Two Step won the Palos Verdes (GII), and he should appreciate nine furlongs far more than he liked seven. SHARED BELIEF is undoubtedly a fast horse, and undoubtedly a consistent one. However, he will likely go off at a very short price. There is one other horse in this field who is in the same general stratum classwise, will go off at longer odds, and will likely get a bit better pace setup: HOPPERTUNITY. Though he came from more of a midpack spot last out in the San Pasqual (GII), he has done a lot of good work from closer up. Two back in the Clark, he stalked Constitution's pace just a length or two off, and repelled a late run from Protonico to prevail. He broke his maiden from a stalking place, and won the Rebel (GII) in such a race shape as well. He is a better horse now than he was when CALIFORNIA CHROME left him in the dust in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) last year, and should have the speed and the pace setup to give him a run for his money here.
#8 CALIFORNIA CHROME (6/5)
#1 HOPPERTUNITY (4/1)
#5 SHARED BELIEF (7/5)
Longshot: There is very little in the way of early speed in this race: basically just CALIFORNIA CHROME and #9 ALFA BIRD (30/1). Santa Anita tends to be friendly toward the frontrunning types, and if CALIFORNIA CHROME either fires a Pennsylvania Derby-esque clunker or no one does much to press the pace, ALFA BIRD could get things his way on the front end. If that happens, he could be gone. He is taking a definite class rise here: this four-year-old broke his maiden fourth out, back in November, at Del Mar. He followed that up with an allowance win at Santa Anita on January 2, going 1 1/8 miles: the same distance as the San Antonio. Both of these victories came in his only two starts in which he has had a relatively uncontested lead early, and that scenario is the only one in which it looks possible that he could win. An easy lead is no slam-dunk, especially given the class jump he is taking and the fact that CALIFORNIA CHROME has shown the desire and ability to take the lead if he can. Still, ALFA BIRD has shown the ability to stay engaged when pressured or even beaten for the early lead. In that case, he could at least invade the exotics for a price.
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