By Richard Rosenblatt
A huge dose of stakes races featuring four Kentucky Derby preps, three Kentucky Oaks preps, and the Santa Anita Handicap, is lined up for Saturday. From the Big A to Turfway, from Gulfstream to Santa Anita, the 2022 racing season moves into a higher gear this month.
As in most cases, the Derby preps take center stage, particularly the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. A field of 11 is set with Antonio Sano-trained Simplification the 5-2 favorite over Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher’s Emmanuel (3-1).
The San Felipe (G2) has a field of seven led by San Vicente (G2) winner Forbidden Kingdom as the slight 8-5 favorite over Bob Baffert-trained Doppelganger at 9-5. The Gotham (G3) drew a field of 10 with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s Morello the 3-1 favorite with Pletcher’s Dean’s List at 7-2 and Bob Baffert’s Rockefeller at 4-1.
Then there’s the John Battaglia at Turfway Park over the all-weather track. A field of 12 is entered, and trainer Kenny McPeek’s Tiz the Bomb is the 5-2 favorite over Stolen Base and Bloodline, both at 7-2. Derby points are 10-4-2-1 to the first four finishers.
The Oaks preps are the Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream (50-20-10-5), the Busher Invitational at the Big A (50-20-10-5), and the Cincinnati Trophy at Turfway (10-4-2-1). On Sunday, there’s another Oaks points qualifier – the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel (50-20-10-5).
The 85th edition of the Big ‘Cap drew an eight-horse field. Four-time Grade 2 winner Express Train is the 8-5 favorite over 5-2 second choice Stilleto Boy.
$300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3), 1 mile, 3-year-olds
Jose Lezcano has the call leaving from post 9.
$400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2, 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds
San Vicente (G2) winner Forbidden Kingdom is the one to beat in a field of seven. Trained by Richard Mandella the colt is the 8-5 favorite leaving from post 6 under Juan Hernandez.
“He’s as quick as they come,” Mandella said of Forbidden Kingdom.
$400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), 1 1 /16 miles, 3-year-olds
Simplification (5-2) takes on the role of favorite after Mo Donegal was scratched trainer by Todd Pletcher. Simplification drew post 2 and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Pletcher sends out second choice Emmanuel at 3-1. Emmanuel has won both of his starts, most recently a 4 ½-length victory in an allowance optional claimer on Dec. 11. Luis Saez rides from post 8.
The 12-horse field is a tough one, with Rattle N Roll (8-1) set for his 3-year-old debut for trainer Kenny McPeek. The colt won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland back in October. He will be ridden by Brain Hernandez, Jr., from post 6.
Also in the field are Street Sense winner Howling Time (15-1), and Saratoga Special (G2) winner High Oak (8-1).
Emmanuel is one of several Derby contenders for Pletcher.
“We’ll see how we do in the Fountain of Youth and take it from there,” Pletcher said.
$125,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, all-weather, 3-year-olds
Tiz the Bomb looks to bounce back from a seventh-place finish in the Holy Bull (G3) for trainer Kenny McPeek. In a field of 12, Tiz the Bomb is the 5-2 favorite, with Bloodline and Stolen Base each at 7-2.
The race is the local prep for the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on April 2.
As a 2-year-old, Tiz the Bomb won the Bourbon Stakes (G2) and was the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
Jockey Alex Achard will ride leaving from post 10.
Radio Days, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, is the 7-5 favorite in a field of six, with Magic Circle is the second choice at 3-1 for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
Radio Days comes into the race with two victories and a second-place finish in the Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream on Feb. 5.
Chateau, a 7-year-old gelding, makes his 40th career start as the 4-5 favorite in a five-horse field. Trained by Rob Atras, Chateau has a record 8-10-10 and earnings of $615,019.
He comes into the race off a Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct in December. Chateau won this race last year.
In addition to the Fountain of Youth, there are seven other graded stakes races on the card. Here’s a look at some of them:
An evenly matched field of seven is entered, with Brad Cox-trained Girl With a Dream the 3-1 favorite off her win in the Forward Gal in her last outing.
Todd Pletcher sends out Classy Edition at 7-2 and Sweet Dani Girl is 4-1 for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza.
$200,000 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), 1 mile, 4 and up
Speaker’s Corner is the 5-2 favorite over Todd Pletcher’s Fearless (3-1) in a field of nine. Also running are Diamond Oops (6-1), Endorsed (6-1), and Ny Traffic (9-2).
Speaker’s Corner, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, drew post 3 and will have Junior Alvarado aboard. The 4-year-old colt comes into the race off a victory over Fearless in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 29.
Pletcher will saddle two others in the race – Shamrocket (6-1) and Gloucestershire (8-1). Abaan won the W.L. McKnight Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 29 and before that he took the 2-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes.
“I think he found his specialty in these marathon turf races,’’ Pletcher said. Now he’s shown that he can go two miles, and then he backed up and ran well. It seems like what he enjoys the most.”
Bob Baffert-trained Cezanne is the slight 5-2 favorite over stablemate Eight Rings (3-1) and Craig Lewis-trained Brickyard Ride (3-1).
Flavien Prat has the call on Cezanne, while John Velazquez rides Eight Rings.
Cezanne looks to rebound off a third-place finish in the Palos Verdes Stakes (G3) last time out. Eight Rings is seeking his first stakes win since taking the 2019 American Pharoah Stakes (G1). He ran third in his previous three races – the Native Diver (G3), the San Antonio (G2), and the San Pasqual (G2) in his 5-year-old debut on Feb. 5.
A compact field of five fillies and mares line up with Bob Baffert’s As Time Goes By the 4-5 favorite. Flavien Prat will ride.
Envoutante, trained by Kenny McPeek, is the 8-5 second choice.
As Time Goes By comes into the race off a pair of Grade 3 wins – the Bayakoa Stakes at Los Alamitos to close out 2021, and the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita to open her 5-year-old campaign. She ran second to Swiss Skydiver in the 2021 Beholder Mile.
Count Again tops a 12-horse field as the 7-2 favorite over 5-1 second choice Space Traveller.
Trained by Phil D’Amato, Count Again ended a five-race losing streak with a victory in the Thunder Road Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita on Feb. 5 in his 7-year-old debut.
Space Traveller, trained by Brendan Walsh, comes into the race off a third in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and gets the services of jockey Jamie Spencer.
$650,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), 1 ¼ miles, 4 and up
Express Train is rolling into this one off an impressive victory in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) last month.
Trained by John Shirreffs, the 5-year-old son of Union Rags is the 8-5 favorite in a field of eight. Stilleto Boy is the second choice at 5-2.
Express Train finished off his 4-year-old campaign with a nose victory in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita on Dec. 26 before his successful 5-year-old debut.
Hall of Fame rider Victor Espinoza has the call leaving from post 6 as Express Train looks to avenge a second-place finish in last year’s Big ‘Cap.
Stilleto Boy has run with the best over the past year and finished third in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) on Jan. 29. Trained by Ed Moger, Jr., the 4-year-old son of Shackleford will be ridden by John Velazquez.
In his last three starts in 2021, Stilleto Boy was second in the Awesome Again (G1), fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and third in the Malibu Stakes (G1)
Others in the field include Brad Cox-trained Warrant – third in the Louisiana Stakes (G3) behind stablemate Mandaloun – and Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg, beaten 6 ½ lengths by Express Train in the San Pasqual.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.