While I plan to busy myself on Sunday cheering for Purple Egg in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, I could not shift away from handicapping Santa Anita’s card on Saturday, with the headliner being the G2 San Fernando Stakes. There’s plenty of interesting entries—including 2 of my Saratoga sightings!— and Bob Baffert as usual will be trying to grab it with 4 different horses INCLUDING MY ORIGINAL DERBY FAVORITE FROM LAST YEAR SKY KINGDOM! OH MY GOD I AM SO EXCITED!!! Yeah, I was seriously crushed when he was sidelined, if you couldn’t tell… Baffert aims to become the leader of San Fernando wins, as he is currently tied with Laz Barrera with 4 wins each.
Weather looks California clear for Saturday.
$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (II) - 4-year-olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita. Post Time: Saturday, January 12 at 3:36pm PST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Battle Force - Garrett Gomez, 118 lbs, John Shirreffs - Trading grass for dirt, the Giant’s Causeway colt has been knocking on the winning door for some time, last out being 2nd in the mile-long Sir Beaufort (II), just missing winner Silentio by a half length while closing ground. This will be the colt’s first dirt start after running on poly and grass, though he has never been worse than 3rd. While I trust Shirreffs’ judgement and Gomez’s hands, this one looks a bit tough to use in such a deep field and racing on dirt for the first time. However, he has shown great improvement on the grass and is getting close to a win.
2) Fly Lexis Fly - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Neil Drysdale - Lightly-raced last year without much avail, the Badge of Silver ridgeling has been struggling with poor starts, too-late runs, and just generally goofing when he should be winning. His last race was a stakes-quality allowance at Hollywood where he ran 3rd behind improving graded winners Jaycito and Tres Borrachos. The blinkers go back on for this test. A horse with upside, I don’t think this is the right place for him. He looks like he could swallow more ground than this and he doesn’t look as good as he did last year.
3) Regulus - Aaron Gryder, 118 lbs, Eoin Harty - The Distorted Humor gelding wears the Darley colors to post after winning twice in 6 starts last year, one of them being an allowance-optional claimer at Santa Anita at the same distance. Not an amazing entry, Regulus is making his stakes debut here. Likely to try to be out on or near the pace to take advantage of that speed bias, but will face a steep class test.
4) Mile High Magic - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - Royal bloodlines pack this improving gelding’s pedigree as a grandson of the famous Silverbulletday, and being that this Roman Ruler son is owned by Mike Pegram at Baffert’s barn, we are right to expect big things. Stretching him out a bit, he was 5th last out here at 7 furlongs in the Damascus Stakes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday as the favorite. The gelding goes blinkers-off for the first time here. While he’s making his graded debut here, he’s outrun some good sprinters like Mensa Heat and Sinai before and appears to like the fast Santa Anita dirt. He’s a beatable favorite though who will need to resist falling into a duel early on.
5) Guilt Trip - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A bit too slow for the speed in the Malibu (I) last out where he ran 5th, the Pulpit colt drops down a bit and stretches out where he should be more comfortable. While he won’t get a picnic in beating others, he does have some excellent workouts with a :59 bullet last week. He should also like the extra ground more and could close in a bit better in this spot.
6) Handsome Mike - Mario Gutierrez, 123 lbs, Doug O’Neill - The Pennsylvania Derby (II) winner and son of Scat Daddy is back to dirt after flailing home 10th in the Hollywood Derby (I) last out. O’Neill puts blinkers on this G2 winner. Workouts are a bit curious coming from the gate, so I’m wondering whether or not Mike has it in him to catch these faster horses. He may look to try to upset them as they tire in the stretch, but I’m doubtful that will happen at the super-slick Santa Anita main.
7) Sky Kingdom - Edwin Maldonado, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - A winner twice last year before being 5th in the jumbled Robert B. Lewis (II) here, the son of Empire Maker is finally back after that long 11-month layoff. He looks good in his workouts, but it may be too much of a first test back.
8) Fed Biz - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The speedy Giant’s Causeway colt got off to a bad start in the Malibu (I) last out where he couldn’t muster much better than 6th, and stretches out again here. Likely to take advantage of the speed bias, this colt has the right speed to get the win so long as he can stay out of trouble and doesn’t get caught in a burning pace up front. He looks like a miler, so can he last a bit longer than that?
9) Tribal Jewel - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - The California-bred gelding by Tribal Rule, this will be the speedy Hollendorfer trainee’s stakes debut after winning 3 and showing 3 times in 7 starts last year. He was a rallying winner last out in a Santa Anita mile allowance. He has the speed to get this done, but will face a big class test. Leparoux isn’t a top Cali rider, but may be patient enough to eke out a good effort from this rallier.
10) Tritap - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Steve Asmussen - Tapit baby! A winner twice last year and 2nd three times in 7 total starts, Tritap snuffed out the good Suns Out Guns Out last out in a Churchill allowance at this distance in November. He will need to improve further, and I question how well he’s doing in his workouts.
Top Picks in Order
1) Tribal Jewel
2) Mile High Magic
3) Battle Force
While this field is pretty interesting, speedy, and open to little differences in strategy, there’s a lot of vulnerabilities in many performers’ backgrounds, particularly the “class” of the field like Fed Biz who cannot keep himself out of trouble. Tribal Jewel has done little wrong training up to this event, and can take it with a patient ride if and when the pace crashes. Mile High Magic has a lot of upside but will be hammered at the windows no doubt, but looks fresher than most of his stablemates and is Baffert’s best bet to win. Battle Force is an excellent horse, and I don’t think Shirreffs would put him on dirt unless he thought he had dirt potential… plus Gomez, you know, is an excellent rider choice.
Value Pick: Battle Force