2016 Santa Anita Handicap Preview Day

After a lighter weekend on the national racing stage last weekend, the action picks up this weekend, particularly at Santa Anita.  Saturday’s card at Santa Anita features a bumper card of graded stakes races, including the three races previewed in this piece.  The handicap division converges in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap; turf milers test their skills in the G1 Kilroe Mile; and the G2 San Felipe spotlights three-year-olds on the Derby trail.

In addition to Big ‘Cap Day at Santa Anita, Picks and Ponderings also checks in with three-year-old prep races going on around the country. Nicolle Neulist heads down to sunny Florida for the G2 Tampa Bay Derby and to Oaklawn for the G3 Honeybee. Both races, like the San Felipe, offer qualification points to the Derby (Tampa Bay Derby) and Oaks (Honeybee).

All races in this preview are slated for Saturday March 6.  Selections in turf races are given “turf only”. At publish time the turf rail is set to the zero position. CalRacing.com also offers free live video streaming of these races, and all racing days at Santa Anita.

Santa Anita — Race 6 — G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile — One Mile on Turf — post time 2:30 pm PST

Frank E. Kilroe’s first career was to write stories for magazines. But his well-to-do family felt writing wouldn’t be a career, so he was given a job at Jamaica Race Track. Kilroe found his calling, and by the 1950s functioned as the racing secretary at Jamaica. In the 1960s, he moved to Southern California and to the role he’s most famous for – as racing secretary and building block of Southern California racing. The Santa Anita-Hollywood-Del Mar circuit (in order to timeshare Kilroe) came about during Kilroe’s career that concluded in 1989. In 2000, the Arcadia Handicap (not the prep to this race) had its name changed to memorialize Kilroe – who died in 1996. First run in 1960 and first run at a mile since 1987 (before that, ten panels), the race became a Grade One in 2005. Notable winners include a pair who also won the Arlington Million that same year – Perrault (1982) and Gio Ponti (2009). Prized (1990) won the prior year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Champions with Kilroe wins include Australian Horse of the Year Strawberry Road (1986) and Eclipse Turfer Leroidesanimaeux (2005).

The local prep for this race, saw BOLO nail Obviously on the tape affter the latter got an uncontested lead.  OM did try to move three wide but looked to not fire his best shot.  While MIDNIGHT STORM offers a better fight than the one-way OBVIOUSLY, this is a race of quality not quantity.  BOLO obviously went wrong last summer in the Belmont Derby and emerged from his vacation in fine fettle when tagging Obviously in the aforementioned Arcadia a month ago.  This time around the pace projects slower – not the sub :46 half of a month ago but still honest with WHAT A VIEW cutting out the fractions as he did against state-breds a month ago.  The more moderate pace plays to BOLO, who may have the best “closing kick”.  The presence of OM and WHAT A VIEW won’t turn this into a race where they go :48 for the half – then BOLO would steal it.  But the moderate pace should play to BOLO who dusted off OM in the Arcadia and does have the better tools.  The Mike Smith/Carla Gaines production won’t be the 7-1 he was last time; half of that seems more fair.  OM may be a trivia question answer down the line for his work at two while American Pharoah was maturing, but OM quietly became a nice sophomore turfer.  He won the Del Mar and Twilight Derbies at three and hit the podium in the Hollywood Derby.  His first start against elders was in the G2 Arcadia, where he was moving three wide nicely and just flattened out to be a middling third.   The pace set-up obviously  – zing! – and didn’t allow him to be in front as he had been when wiring the G2s at three, and while he could do better if he gets to the top ahead of WHAT A VIEW, his race left the impression that BOLO may just be better than OM or that BOLO may have shown progression from age three to four and OM has not.  Even so, OM does get more of a chance to run a race more representative in the Kilroe.  The darling of the west coast sophomore turfers two years ago was MIDNIGHT STORM, who closed out his four-year-old campaign winning the G2 Seabiscuit during the Hollywood Turf Festival.  First start off the winter vacation comes in the G1 Kilroe, and he did fire fresh off the shelf last year to clear an upper level allowance condition.  His 2015 looks better when you line out the dirt try in the Pacific Classic.


#4 BOLO (2/1)

#1 OM (3/1)


Longshot: #7 DE TREVILLE (8/1) may still be eligible for an N2X, but he hit the podium twice last year in French Group Three races. DE TREVILLE does beautifully play the European Wild Card role, but the Americans in turf miles haven’t been all that strong and the same goes for the SoCal ones.  It’s possible that his European efforts will work better in this race that lacks a true “come from the parking lot” closer. The career resume isn’t half bad either: two wins and seven top three finishes in eight starts, four times G3 placed. Trainer John Sherriffs has two wins in nine tries and a nice ROI when handling these kind of first -time North American runners.   He could hate American racing and turn in a clunker.  Or pull a The Pizza Man and clown the division from an unorthodox position.  That all-or-nothing proposition makes him a juicy play should the Big Cap Day bettors pour the money in on the home team.

Santa Anita — Race 7 — G2 San Felipe Stakes– One and One-Sixteenth Miles on Dirt– post time 3:00 pm PST

The San Felipe Stakes is the final local prep to the Santa Anita Derby and two preps away from the Kentucky Derby.  Contested since 1935 and shelved during the Second World War, the race settled into its current incarnation – a three-year-old race at a mile and a sixteenth – in 1952.  It now offers $400,000 as its purse and a 50-20-10-5 allotment of Kentucky Derby qualifying points – meaning that the winner of this race has a Kentucky Derby spot in the gate should the winner wish to go on.  The San Felipe-Kentucky Derby has been completed by quite a few runners, including Determine (1954), Affirmed (1978), Sunday Silence (1989), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), California Chrome (2004).  2001 San Felipe winner Point Given won the Preakness and Belmont that year.

California Chrome runs away with the 2014 San Felipe Stakes, on his way to turning the San Felipe-Kentucky Derby double.

This is a puzzling race because of the behind-the-scenes dynamics.  You wonder why Doug O’ Neill (who successfully navigated the Derby Trail on the West Coast with I’ll Have Another) is putting Nyquist  on a plane to Florida and Ralis in next week’s Rebel when he could easily stay at home with these runners – and he’s without an entry in the San Felipe.   You wonder which runner takes back as most of the field likes to be forward, but they all can’t have the lead and they all can’t play carousel.  Such dynamics are in play before the latch springs on the San Felipe.  This space begins by focusing on who it won’t take – MOR SPIRIT.  The win in the Lewis looked too opportunistic as he raced in a stalking spot behind the leaders but well in the clear.  In this field with a lot more forward runners, the trip he got last time doesn’t project.  What projects is a swift pace – whether I WILL SCORE (who dictated the terms in the Lewis) or first-level allowance winner DANZING CANDY sets the pace remains to be seen.  While we’ve seen EXAGGERATOR pull back off the pace (he did it in the Breeders’ Futurity) and have a modicum of success, this space thinks SMOKEY IMAGE can make the pace adjustment as well.  This race is the litmus test of whether he should go on down the Derby Trail or retreat the state-bred circuit.  The Carla Gaines-trained California-bred had a beatdown worthy victory last time in the Cal Cup Derby.  It was his first try around two turns, but he’s bred delightfully for it by (Big Cap winner) Southern Image out of a (Pacific Classic winning) Free House mare.  Victor Espinoza has the call on a runner who showed the speed to win at two turns but two back pulled off the pace going seven-eighths. Perhaps he got the lead no one wanted and was able to apply his cruising speed to this bunch.  Duplicating his brilllance of the  Cal Cup Derby would do well in this field.  And if you’re getting Deja Vu – this is the same path California Chrome used and the video above shows how it turned out.  EXAGGERATOR gamely repelled Suuny Ridge two back in the Delta Jackpot (the runner-up went on to annex the Withers and be fourth in the Gotham last week) and last time out couldn’t meet the measure against incumbent frosh champion Nyquist.  Perhaps EXAGGERATOR’s connections, knowing the zero point nature, used the race as a throwaway and perhaps he was short in the San Vicente.  Or it was a distance too short for his comfort zone.  Whatever the case, he figures to be around at the end and if the speed all gets crazy, he will have the fight to be around longer than expected.   The concern with him is whether he’s peaked already and has plateaued.  Plus he has yet to win around a “conventional” two turns – though the prior tries were a wet track Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  While this race is a litmus test on SMOKEY IMAGE it is also a litmus test on DANZING CANDY, who won his first level allowance gate to wire and was a winner two back on the opening day program.  While he pulled back going seven panels and dictated the terms going two turns, his breeding isn’t as superb for two turns as SMOKEY IMAGE – though being by Twirling Candy is not at all a liability at this distance.  He does have a better, more inside post than SMOKEY IMAGE and does go second off the layoff.  But the presence of Mike Smith in the irons and the backstretch buzz make him a more defensive use.  However, his future is now at a mile and as sixteenth and it is perhaps more suitable to him than others.





Longshot:  Selling MOR SPIRIT has a bit of sense to it, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The “B”” Bob Baffert trainee is  #4 CUPID (12/1).  While he already has the built in  clause of being lesser known than fellow Baffert barn resident MOR SPIRIT, he’s also shown the best closing among the local runners when winning his maiden last time at the San Felipe’s two turn distance.  Martin Garcia has the assigned mount on a runner that will hope the forward speed of I WILL SCORE and SMOKEY IMAGE and DANZING CANDY all get together and create a pace meltdown.  It’s not an easy task for the first start against winners to come in a G2, and that should keep his price well higher than others.

Santa Anita — Race 10 — G1 Santa Anita Handicap — One and one-quarter miles on Dirt– post time 4:30 pm PST

Officially, the name of the race is the Santa Anita Handicap. But in racing circles, the nickname of “The Big Cap” is used, and even by Santa Anita in marketing one of its biggest races of the winter. Dating to the track’s first season in 1934-35, the Santa Anita Handicap was noteworthy from its inception at offering a purse of hundred thousand dollars – a hefty sum during the Great Depression. Shelved during the 1940s for wartime purposes, it has always been contested at ten furlongs at The Great Race Place. It went synthetic for a few years before going back to the dirt it’s been on. A Grade One race with a million dollars in purse money, the Big Cap is the richest race for the older group at Santa Anita. Not surprisingly, the list of winners in the Big Cap with honors is long and storied. From movie subject Seabiscuit (1940) to Hall of Famer Round Table (1958) to locally connected Lucky Debonair (1966), the Big Cap’s early honor roll is just an appetizer for the winners in the 1970s and 1980s, with names like Ack Ack (1971), Triple Bend (1972), and Cougar II (1973), Affirmed (1979), Spectacular Bid (1980), John Henry (1981, 1982), and Alysheba (1988). Most recent among these hallowed names is the only three-time winner, Game On Dude (2011, 2013, 2014).

Game On Dude wins his third Santa Anita Handicap in four years, taking the 2014 Santa Anita Handicap “Big Cap”.

Who goes with DONWORTH early?  Cat Burgular and DONWORTH set an honest but contested pace in the San Antonio last month, and this race came up with a dearth of front speed.  So the son of Tiznow out of a Street Cry mare gets a chance to control the pace of a race without much pressure.  Based on pedigree, him getting the ten panels seems plausible.  The humans involved have worked together before (think I’ll Have Another), while hitting at a respectable 17% wins/50% for the last two months.  Said connections are Mario Gutierrez riding for training Doug O’Neill and owner Reddam Racing.  DONWORTH is our selection as he gets that plum pace scenario, showed his fight when yielding to Hoppertunity and IMPERATIVE in the San Antonio last out, and catches a Big Cap lacking a big face – the division leader California Chrome is overseas and Hoppertunity isn’t in this field.  His toughest challenge will come from the out-of-town runners, however.  An advance weather forecast of rain only aids the cause.  The out-of-towner that poses the biggest challenge is EFFINEX, who ran second two back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind the Horse of the Year and ran a bang-up race despite getting the silver medal.  The tank wasn’t on empty when he annexed the Clark to close out his 2015 that began with a smart score in the Excelsior over the ten furlong trip.  One wonders if he’ll need a race, but EFFINEX may not need to be cranked to fullest in this Big Cap.  The distance is fine, and his summer at Saratoga could just be a case of lulled form or bad trips.  He figures to be the betting favorite in this affair for good reason, and he’s a logical contender if he runs back to his races last year.  But he could get lulled to submission by DONWORTH on the front.  The other out-of-towner is GENERAL a ROD, but this space has always been dubious of him going ten furlongs.  The third spot in this space could go to anyone, but the call is on IMPERATIVE who got his contested pace last time and was second in the San Antonio.  IMPERATIVE may be a bit of a transparent type that needs a contested pace to fire his best shot.  And he will need someone to go with DONWORTH early.  Even if no one goes with him, there’s still a target for him to chase and clunk up into.  His last two starts have seen him get on the podum in the Native Diver and the San Pasqual, and this time around he doesn’t have to chase Dortmund or California Chrome.


#3 DONWORTH (3/1)

#5 EFFINEX (2/1)


Longshot: What a difference a year makes.  Last year Jerry Hollendorfer had the prohibitive favorite and predictable winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in Shared Belief.  This year he has two horses in double digits on the morning line.  The Longshot Writer would normally take the higher price of the two and you’d just roll with it based on the uncoupled entry reason..  But this time around, the shorter price is endorsed in rail-drawn  #1 POINT PIPER (12/1).  Drayden Van Dyke is named to ride, and this space goes here given that he’ll still be at high odds given the out-of-town cash funneling in on EFFINEX and GENERAL a ROD.  In a Big Cap lacking Dortmund, Hoppertunity, and California Chrome a case could be made for most anyone, and he’s bred delightfully for ten furlongs with Giant’s Causeway on top and Sadler’s Wells on the bottom.  Wide last time in a short field G3 Mineshaft, he may have established himself as a listed stakes caliber runner.  But we trust the ‘Dorfer to not enter him just  so he can get a free burrito Saturday morning at Clocker’s Corner; this isn’t a classy Big Cap on paper and striking while the iron is hot (or the field is not) makes sense.

All videos courtesy Youtube.


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