This Saturday, Picks and Ponderings goes west for a big day of racing -- specifically, Big 'Cap Day. Anchored by the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), the card at Santa Anita features a total of five graded stakes races. In addition to the Big 'Cap, there are two other Grade 1 races: The Triple Bend for older sprinters, and the Kilroe Mile for older grass horses. Kentucky Derby points are on the line in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, the final local prep for next month's Santa Anita Derby. Rounding out the stakes portion of Saturday's Santa Anita action is the China Doll Stakes, a turf mile for sophomore fillies.
Selections for the Kilroe Mile and the China Doll Stakes are for turf only. The preview of the Kilroe Mile is jointly published at ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner.
Saturday, March 11 - Santa Anita Park
Race 5: San Felipe Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:30pm PST
The San Felipe Stakes will be run for the 80th time this year. It is a Road to the Kentucky Derby race, with not only a $400,000 purse up for grabs but also 50, 20, 10, and 5 Kentucky Derby points available to the top four finishers. Originally inaugurated in 1935 for colts and geldings aged three and up, the race was restricted to three-year-olds starting in 1941, and opened up to fillies as well starting in 1952. Run at distances as short at six furlongs during its history, it has held steady at its current 1 1/16 mile distance since 1952. Over the history of the San Felipe Stakes, five winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby later that year: Determine (1954), Affirmed (1978), Sunday Silence (1989), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), and California Chrome (2014). Bob Baffert, who brings MASTERY to this year's edition, has been the most successful trainer of all time in the San Felipe. He has won the race five times, most recently with Dortmund (2015).
Dortmund wins the 2015 San Felipe Stakes (G2) for trainer Bob Baffert. Two years later, he will try turf for the first time in the Kilroe Mile (G1) -- his first outing for new conditioner Art Sherman.
This race has no shortage of front-end gas, as GORMLEY, MASTERY, and ANN ARBOR EDDIE have all shown good form up front. ANN ARBOR EDDIE is not likely to be fast enough to fight with the top two. GORMLEY and MASTERY have also shown themselves to be able to survive a speed duel. However, GORMLEY has done so against better horses. GORMLEY went to the mat with MASTERY's stablemate AMERICAN ANTHEM in the Sham Stakes, and got the victory to show for it.
Whereas, MASTERY is as untested as a Grade 1 winner could ever be. MASTERY also has not raced since December. He should be ready -- Bob Baffert's charges always are, after all -- but this space will give the more seasoned GORMLEY the nod. In addition to that seasoning against better horses than MASTERY has faced, GORMLEY has also raced a bit more recently, and also has a solid worktab coming in. Could MASTERY win? Of course. But, he has more to prove than GORMLEY does -- and thanks to the team of Bob Baffert and Mike Smith, he will likely be a shorter price.
Should the marquee contenders burn each other out, it could set up for ILIAD. ILIAD should be able to stalk just off the top two, and get first run. This will be his first try at two turns, but being a Ghostzapper half to the long-winded Melmich, he stands to get better with distance. Trainer Doug O'Neill also wins at an 18% clip with his first-time routers. Flavien Prat, firing at 22% on the meet, also has the call. He got ILIAD home in the San Vicente (G2) last out, and should know how to get the best from his mount again. Whether he will measure up to GORMLEY and MASTERY is the question, but he has enough upside to be the most credible contender apart from the top two.
#5 GORMLEY (9/5)
#4 MASTERY (6/5)
#6 ILIAD (5/2)
Longshot: #2 VENDING MACHINE (20/1) has to take a leap forward to contend here, but at the price, he could. He has some good long works, six and seven furlongs, since his last start on January 21. So, he should be fit. He disappointed as the favourite in the California Derby in that last start, but toss that -- it was his first try on Tapeta, and he returns to a dirt course over which he has already won twice here. The California Derby also had VENDING MACHINE on the lead; he has done better from just off the pace, and a return to his stalking style should serve him well. The humans also inspire confidence. VENDING MACHINE gets Norberto Arroyo back in the irons. Arroyo booted him home to a win and a Grade 3 placing in his two rides aboard him. He has also been red-hot with trainer Peter Miller: 61% wins, 83% in the money over the last two months.
Race 8: Triple Bend Stakes (G1), four-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:00pm PST
The Triple Bend Handicap, the first top-level event for older sprinters on the west coast, will be run for the 66th time this year. Originally known as the Lakes and Flowers Handicap, the race took its name to honour Triple Bend starting in 1979. Ironically, Triple Bend never won the race named after him -- though he did win the 1972 Santa Anita Handicap. However, he did prove himself at one turn as well as two -- he won the Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont that same year. Inaugurated in 1952, the Triple Bend Stakes was originally run at Hollywood Park, and moved to Santa Anita in 2014 after its original host track closed. The race has been graded since 1988, and a Grade I since 2003. Though no Triple Bend winner has gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint (GI), several horses who have won it have finished third: Robyn Dancer (1991) and Street Boss (2008) were third in the BC Sprint later in the same year they won the Triple Bend. Bedside Promise (1997) performed that feat the year before his Triple Bend win, and Smiling Tiger (2011) was third in the BC Sprint in both 2010 and 2012. Curiously, Sabona (1986) achieved the best Breeders' Cup finish by a Triple Bend winner when he finished 2nd in the 1989 Breeders' Cup Mile (GI). So far, only one horse has won the race twice: Porterhouse (1955, 1956). MASOCHISTIC will vie to become the second horse to do so; he won the 2015 Triple Bend, and returns to face six other foes this year.
MASOCHISTIC wins his first (and so far only) Grade 1: the 2015 Triple Bend Stakes.
MASOCHISTIC looks like a single here. He looks the clear speed of the speed in a seven-horse field; the only other real front end horse in the field is CONQUEST COBRA, and MASOCHISTIC should be able to outgun him. He loves seven furlongs; in three tries at the distance, he has three victories. He gets Mike Smith in the irons, and has run well with Smith aboard. He hasn't raced since the Breeders' Cup in November, but has been able to fire off a lay before. MASOCHISTIC is not a clever choice, but this looks no place to get clever on top.
SILENT BIRD should be running at MASOCHISTIC late. Will it be enough? Probably not. But, he intrigues as the lightly-raced horse taking a class test here. He only has six starts under his girth, but has won his last five. Four of those victories came in allowance company (yes, he broke his maiden in a one-other-than), and he won the Damascus Stakes last November in his only added-money try. He is also a perfect four-for-four at Santa Anita, and two-for-two at seven panels. This will be his graded stakes debut. SILENT BIRD will have to take a step forward to win this race, but is lightly enough raced to improve. No one else in this field has that sort of upside.
KOBE'S BACK is the only one who matches MASOCHISTIC on class another who will be running down the stretch. He loves seven furlongs. He reliably fires, even off a layoff. But, KOBE'S BACK also less-than-reliably breaks well from the gate, something that hurts his chances of winning, particularly when the pace will not fall apart. You know what you're getting, and you're getting a key underneath.
#5 MASOCHISTIC (1/1)
#4 SILENT BIRD (4/1)
#3 KOBE'S BACK (5/2)
Longshot: #6 NOWALKING (15/1) was laid off for almost two years, and returned in a $35,000 N2L last month. He romped. Of course, a Grade 1 is a far cry from a conditioned claimer, but before his layoff, it seems NOWALKING's connections thought they had a stakes horse. Given how he ran last out, there's still a chance they have one. He ran big in that last start -- but given Phil D'Amato's 19% win rate with runners second off the lay, he has a right to take a step forward. In addition to class, seven furlongs is a question; he has never tried the distance before. But, NOWALKING's last-out win came at six and a half, and there is some overlap between horses who like that distance and this one. All in all, NOWALKING is speculative...but, particularly underneath, he should be the right price to take a shot.
Race 9: Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), four-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf, post time 4:30pm PST
This year marks the 58th running of the Kilroe Mile, a $400,000, top-level race for turf milers. Originally christened the Arcadia Handicap in 1960, the race was renamed in 2000 in memory of racing executive Frank E. Kilroe. Kilroe started his racing career working in the racing office at Jamaica Race Track in New York, and by the 1950s he was splitting his time managing racing in New York in the summer, and at Santa Anita in the winter. He relocated to the west for good in the 1960s, and by the 1970s had built Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park into a coherent yearlong circuit. Originally a 1 1/4 mile race on the grass, it was shortened to its current one-mile distance in 1987 and was first granted Grade I status in 2005. Champions who have won the Kilroe Mile include Australian and German champion Strawberry Road (1986), prominent sire Leroidesanimaux (2005), and 2009 Arlington Million winner Gio Ponti (2009). Only one horse has won the Kilroe Mile twice: Ga Hai, who won in both 1975 and 1976. 2015 winner RING WEEKEND will try to match that feat here, but given his spotty recent form and his trainer’s cold record at The Great Race Place this winter? Spoiler alert: this space will look elsewhere.
Gio Ponti rallies in the 2009 Kilroe Mile, prevailing by a nose over heavily favoured Ventura.
They say pace makes the race, and that maxim matters here. There are two real front-end horses in this race: WHAT A VIEW and DORTMUND. WHAT A VIEW can hang with this class of horses...if he gets a comfortable enough lead. Thanks to a certain hulking Big Brown baby who is going first-time turf, that seems unlikely. DORTMUND, on the other hand, should shake out the speed of the speed. Even if WHAT A VIEW makes a race of it early, DORTMUND has shown the ability to get the best of a contested pace. Yes, he didn't win in four starts last year...but in three of those four starts he faced the likes of California Chrome and Beholder. He has shown the ability to fire off a lay. And, for a first try on grass, he couldn't have picked a better spot since the real titans of the turf mile division (looking at you, Tepin and Miss Temple City!) are still on the shelf. His breeding suggests he could take to the green stuff. Sire Big Brown is not only from the Danzig sire line, but Big Brown himself relished the green stuff. And, dam Our Josephine has produced a turf winner already: DORTMUND's (cooler) older brother, Joseph the Catfish (Mineshaft). All in all? This looks like shrewd placing by new trainer Art Sherman. Between DORTMUND's likelihood to be the one who survives the pace and the strong chance that he'll enjoy grass, this space will give him a chance.
BOLO won the Arcadia (G2) last out, a mile on the Santa Anita grass against several of the horses he faces here. On a whole, this field skews tougher than the Arcadia's, but BOLO's affinity for the course and distance demands respect. In five tries over the grass at Santa Anita, he has four victories and a second -- and, that second came behind a loose-on-the-lead WHAT A VIEW in last year's Kilroe. WHAT A VIEW doesn't stand to get that this year, making BOLO dangerous over his home turf. BOLO also has three wins in five starts at a mile on grass. He keeps Mike Smith in the irons, and though trainer Carla Gaines has not been all that hot this season -- the only win she has came thanks to BOLO's last outing. Given his tactical speed and his trainer's tendency to deliver on big race days, BOLO may well get first and best run on DORTMUND.
The third slot was a tough call between CONQUEST ENFORCER and FLAMBOYANT. FLAMBOYANT has a strong record over the Santa Anita grass...but against this class of horses, a mile may prove a bit short for him. Thus, this space instead leans toward the defensive inclusion of CONQUEST ENFORCER, the west coast grass division's young gun. The son of Into Mischief was third last out behind BOLO in the Arcadia -- but his foot took a bit of a beating. That is a perfectly cromulent excuse, given CONQUEST ENFORCER showed good form against salty older horses at three. He has come back with two solid five-panel works since that start, and should make good account of himself here. He keeps Flavien Prat in the irons; Prat booted him home to victory in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) two back, and also opts to ride him instead of BAL A BALI. All in all, CONQUEST ENFORCER should figure again here.
#4 DORTMUND (4/1)
#3 BOLO (3/1)
#6 CONQUEST ENFORCER (7/2)
Longshot: This winter, #1 BAL A BALI (8/1) had been listed on Calumet Farm's stud roster for 2017. The seven-year-old Brazilian-bred entire disappeared from that roster...and reappears here in Calumet's black and yellow. BAL A BALI has been working regularly since the end of December for strong layoff trainer Richard Mandella, so he should be fit. He also cuts back to his best distance, a flat mile on the grass, after testing the waters at ten furlongs over both dirt and turf last year. Though he loses jockey Flavien Prat to CONQUEST ENFORCER, he gets an excellent turf rider in Javier Castellano. And, he has tactical speed -- one can depend on BAL A BALI not gunning it with the likes of DORTMUND or WHAT A VIEW, but he can set off the pace wherever Castellano judges to be appropriate. It means something that Papa Mandella puts BAL A BALI right back in Grade I company after nine months off -- and BAL A BALI's best could put him in the frame at long odds.
Race 10: Santa Anita Handicap (G1), four-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles on the dirt, post time 5:00pm PST
This year marks the 80th running of the Santa Anita Handicap. Inaugurated in 1935 at ten furlongs over the Santa Anita dirt, it was one of the first "hundred-granders" in American horse racing. This year's purse offers $750,000, and nine handicap horses have passed the entry box this year. Its list of winners over the years reads like an honour roll of the best older horses through in American history. Durable fan favourite Seabiscuit (1940), prepotent stallion Round Table (1958), Triple Crown winner Affirmed (1979), and two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Tiznow (2001). Triple Bend -- the namesake of a Grade 1, seven-furlong race earlier in the day -- himself won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1972. From a more local perspective, two-time Arlington Million winner John Henry was also a force on the dirt -- and he won the Big 'Cap in both 1981 and 1982. Quarter B Farm, owners of Illinois-bred Breeders' Cup Turf winner Buck's Boy, also had their own winner of the Santa Anita Handicap: 1991 winner Farma Way.
Tiznow rolls easily in the 2001 Santa Anita Handicap.
This year's Big 'Cap drew a field of nine, and there are two clear win candidates with true Grade I class: SHAMAN GHOST and MIDNIGHT STORM. Between the two, SHAMAN GHOST appeals more. This son of Ghostzapper is proven at long distances: he won the 1 1/4 mile Queen's Plate, finished a close second in the 1 3/16 mile Prince of Wales, and won the Brooklyn (G2) at a mile and a half last year. SHAMAN GHOST has also started the year in good form against classy company: he finished a strong and clear second behind Arrogate last out in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). The biggest question is pace -- there is not a lot of speed in this race -- but his Woodward victory last year proved some tactical versatility. Javier Castellano had the leg up that day, and returns to SHAMAN GHOST here. The house horse has the speed, class, and stamina to make him the one to beat here.
MIDNIGHT STORM, with regular rider Rafael Bejarano back in the irons, could be dangerous if he gets on an easy lead. He does look like the speed of the speed here. A mile and a quarter is the question; he packed it in badly the only other time he tried the distance. However, in that 2015 Pacific Classic (G1), MIDNIGHT STORM got in a speed duel with Bayern. There's no Bayern for him to fight against here, unless GANGSTER finds some rocket boosters. So, there's enough chance MIDNIGHT STORM gets things his own way to make him dangerous.
The third spot was a close call between two horses who have been regular presences in the underneath rungs in the handicap division for several years: HARD ACES and IMPERATIVE. IMPERATIVE just ran a huge race in the Poseidon Handicap. His recent form is great, but he's more of a nine-furlong horse than a ten-furlong horse. HARD ACES, on the other hand, gets the nod here because he has a bit more form at ten furlongs. He won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) two years ago, and was second in the Santa Anita Handicap last year. Last out he finished a well-beaten fifth in the San Antonio (G2), but that was only a mile and a sixteenth. HARD ACES should appreciate the extra ground, and he has enough tactical versatility to keep him in the race. A win would be a surprise, but HARD ACES could get a piece underneath.
#3 SHAMAN GHOST (2/1)
#1 MIDNIGHT STORM (8/5)
#5 HARD ACES (15/1)
Longshot: #6 FOLLOW ME CREV (8/1) returned last month after a seven-month layoff, gritting his way to a victory. Of course, the likes of SHAMAN GHOST and MIDNIGHT STORM will prove tougher than horses like El Huerfano and Conquest Cobra, and FOLLOW ME CREV has yet to prove graded stakes quality. But, FOLLOW ME CREV has an affinity for Santa Anita, solid route breeding, and the chance to improve second off the lay. His people also inspire confidence. He goes out for high-percentage connections: 20% trainer Vladimir Cerin and 20% rider Kent Desormeaux. Desormeaux booted FOLLOW ME CREV to his last-out victory, so there is rapport. They will have to bring their best, but in a Big 'Cap that isn't so deep beyond the top two, he has a shot to get a piece.
Race 11: China Doll Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the turf, post time 5:20pm PST
Restricted to three-year-old fillies, the $75,000 China Doll Stakes will be run for the fifteenth time this year. Itself a minor stakes on the schedule, it serves as a local prep for graded turf stakes for three-year-old fillies later in the meet, including the Providencia (GIII), the Honeymoon (GII), and the Senorita (GIII). In recent years, the race has been ripe for upsets: Irish-bred Mirage sprung the 27-1 upset last year, and Singing Kitty bounded home at 19-1 two years back.
Diversy Harbor, her name a misspelled reference to a place here in Chicago, wins the 2014 China Doll Stakes.
This year's edition of the China Doll drew an overflow field: 12, plus two also-eligible entires. This space has its fingers crossed for a scratch -- because if SIBERIAN IRIS draws in off the AE list, she will be dangerous. This will be a class rise for her, as she has not yet faced winners. But, she woke up nicely last time out -- in her first two-turn try, a nine-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita a month ago. Note that she handled an outside post well there, too; she broke from the twelve hole. That was only her second career race, but her first since last October. So, this race has SIBERIAN IRIS second off the lay (for Richard Mandella, a 20% winner in that circumstance!), in her third lifetime start, perfectly primed to take the reasonable step forward she needs to be a factor in the China Doll.
MISS SUNSET upset the Sweet Life Stakes last out, and stretches out to two turns for the first time here. The distance is a question, as her dam is a Trippi mare who did her best work in short dashes at Los Alamitos, but Into Mischief is a nice sire of milers. MISS SUNSET started her career on the dirt, but showed good talent on the green stuff last out. She survived a contentious early pace, got the lead, and dug in late. She may have some pace to handle early with the likes of BERNINA STAR, SIRCAT SALLY, and perhaps even MADAM DANCEALOT, but as the stretch-out sprinter, MISS SUNSET looks the likely speed of the speed. On top of this, MISS SUNSET's connections could not be hotter. Trainer Jeff Bonde is firing at a 32% clip this meet, and also does well with horses third off the lay. Rider Edwin Maldonado has a respectable 16% win rate this meet, as well, and has been particularly strong with Bonde: three wins in four tries over the last two months, and all four have finished on the podium.
SIRCAT SALLY gets a class test here. The Jerry Hollendorfer charge is undefeated in three starts, but all her races have come against California-bred company. Still, on speed, she fits. She also has a win over the course and distance in the Cal Cup Oaks last out, and in that start she showed a stalking gear that she had not previously used. And, though SIRCAT SALLY loses Tyler Baze from that start (he rides rail-drawn MISS SUGARS instead), she gets Mike Smith in the irons. Not only does Mike Smith excel in stakes races, but Smith booted SIRCAT SALLY home to her maiden win last November.
#13 SIBERIAN IRIS (12/1)
#11 MISS SUNSET (6/1)
#5 SIRCAT SALLY (5/2)
Longshot: #6 GRAND PRIX (20/1) has some class to prove here, as the hoses she faces here are tougher that the ones against whom she has been running over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields. But, her one turf start was a solid third in a maiden special weight down the hill. GRAND PRIX also has tactical speed. Though she closed from the back in that try down the hill, most of her races have her up a bit closer to the pace. Furthermore, this will be GRAND PRIX's first try going two turns, and her breeding should suit nicely. She is by Tale of the Cat out of the Lemon Drop Kid mare Be Envied -- making her a half to Finest City. Though Finest City is a champion sprinter, she can do more than just go short on dirt. In her last start before the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), she finished beaten just a head by Avenge in the John C. Mabee (G2) going nine panels on grass. Perhaps two turns on grass will prove to be GRAND PRIX's best game, and if it does, she can make an impact here at long odds.