The San Felipe Stakes (G2) will be run for the 81st 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 has been the most successful trainer of all time in the San Felipe. He has won the race six times, most recently with Mastery (2017).
No one sprouts wings, and no one catches California Chrome in the 2014 San Felipe Stakes.
In addition to this race, there are two other Derby preps on Saturday as well. We will be on site at Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2); a separate piece previews that, and offers selections for all the day's stakes. Further up the east coast, at Aqueduct, Saturday's card features the Gotham Stakes (G3).
The Oaks Trail also continues this week at Oaklawn Park; we preview the Honeybee Stakes (G3).
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Edited Thursday, March 8 to add morning lines.
Saturday, March 10 - Santa Anita Park
Race 6: San Felipe Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:30pm PST
BOLT D'ORO makes his three-year-old bow in the San Felipe -- and few horses who have been racing this year have been quite as much of a soap opera as BOLT D'ORO has been on the sidelines. Of course, he's not invincible here: it's never great to see a horse's Derby campaign delayed due to a physical setback, and trainer Mick Ruis has been ice-cold this meet at Santa Anita. But? BOLT D'ORO is still the most talented member of his class so far, and his most dazzling effort came at the same course and distance as the San Felipe, when he romped in the FrontRunner (G1) last fall. He gets a rider upgrade to Javier Castellano here -- perhaps a good thing, after the interesting ride Corey Nakatani gave him in the Breeders' Cup. And, he may not even go off the chalk, given the record and connections of MCKINZIE. BOLT D'ORO's talent is the one thing this space continues to believe in through this muddled Derby season, and we'll stick with him here.
When Bolt was away, KANTHAKA played. In the Grade 2 San Vicente last month, he fired an impressive warning shot. Though he got a nice setup with Mr. Jagermeister and Ax Man fighting up front early, he won with the kind of authority that makes him an exciting prospect going forward, particularly since the San Vicente was his first stakes race and only his third lifetime start. KANTHAKA should get some speed to chase here, with LOMBO, CALEXMAN, and perhaps even AQUILA on the engine. He should also get a clean trip from the outside. The biggest question for KANTHAKA is the distance. He has not gone a route of ground yet, and his pedigree suggests that the seven furlongs of the San Vicente (and of his maiden win) may turn out to be his best trip of all. Still, with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a 19% winner first time route, and with his typical pattern of not forcing a horse on the Derby trail unless he finds it wise? If he thinks KANTHAKA should try two turns, in the Dorf we trust.
Finally, we get to MCKINZIE. He has done very little wrong in his three-race career; he is undefeated only thanks to a questionable disqualification, but the horse who crossed the wire ahead of him, Solomini, is good enough that it hardly qualifies as a black mark to finish second behind him. He has been on the shelf since the Sham at the beginning of January, though trainer Bob Baffert does shine with layoff horses. He also keeps Mike Smith in the irons; Smith has taken the call all three other times MCKINZIE has raced, so he's both a big race jockey and one who knows the horse. He has a bit to prove against the best of his class -- looking at you, BOLT D'ORO -- so it's difficult to love him as the likely chalk. But? You have to use him defensively, at least.
#1 BOLT D'ORO (2/1)
#8 KANTHAKA (4/1)
#4 MCKINZIE (8/5)
Longshot: #7 PEACE (15/1) disappointed in the Robert Lewis (G3) last out, but that was his only start with blinkers, and his only bad outing in four career starts. Trainer Richard Mandella takes the blinkers back off here. This race requires a far improved effort compared to his Lewis -- but requires just a reasonable move forward as compared to his previous efforts without blinkers. PEACE does lose rider Mike Smith to MCKINZIE, but gets a more than competent replacement in Drayden Van Dyke, a 19% rider at Santa Anita this meet. With a nice outside post, tactical speed, and a maiden win at the same mile and a sixteenth at Santa Anita, PEACE still has some upside, particularly since he'll be flying under the radar off his last race.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.