There’s a pretty good chance the typically blue and sunny Southern California skies will be gray and rainy on Saturday by the 4:30 p.m. post time for the $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes (GIIT), a nine-furlong turf test that drew a field of 12 top older runners. It is one of the few stakes at Santa Anita run in the first season of racing back in 1935 still being contested today. It is one of the early preps to the historic San Juan Capistrano (GIIT), which takes place in April and, once, was the traditional end-of-meet stakes before the winter meet dates were extended.
Some of the more famous names to have won the San Gabriel throughout the years include Determine, Cougar II, John Henry, In Excess, Star of Cozzene, Irish Prize, Redattore, Badge of Silver and three-time winner Jeranimo.
This year, the early favorite for the San Gabriel is St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds’ recent Seabiscuit Handicap (GIIT) winner Ring Weekend. The now 6-year-old son of Tapit started his career on the main track, but after just two wins (though one was in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby as a sophomore), the Graham Motion trainee found his home on the lawn and has amassed a nice record of 12-5-3-0 and over $1 million in earnings on the green. If the race stays on the turf and the surface is soft, it shouldn’t be a problem for Ring Weekend as he’s a winner over both soft and good going, and he’s won two of three trips at the distance. Post position 11 shouldn’t be too much of a concern either, given the long run up into the first turn and he should get the pace he prefers to sit off of, so all he’ll need is a well-timed ride from jockey Drayden Van Dyke to get to the wire in front.
A Red Tie Day won the Lure Stakes at Santa Anita back in late October before finishing fifth in the Seabiscuit last out in an uninspiring performance. Now back over his favorite surface (four wins from seven starts) and at a distance well within his wheelhouse, the Richard Baltas-trained son of Indygo Shiner looks a strong candidate for the win. The confirmed pace stalker will have new jockey Corey Nakatani, widely known as a top grass jockey, aboard for the first time and the pair will likely get the pace a decent pace to sit behind. A good price may be his most attractive asset in here.
After finishing second to A Red Tie Day in the Lure Stakes, trainer Bob Hess Jr. entered Perfectly Majestic in an optional claiming event over the Del Mar turf at this nine-furlong distance, which he won by a neck in a thrilling stretch run. Now back in graded stakes company, the Griffin and Schroeder-owned chestnut will again carry Victor Espinoza, who was in the irons for his last race. A late runner, the number 10 post won’t be a problem; and if he runs back to his performance in the City of Hope Mile (GIIT) from the fall when he was fourth behind Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GIT) winner and runner-up, Obviously and Om respectively, he figures to be a strong contender in here.
Twentytwentyvision was third as the favorite in the Lure Stakes last out and while he’s only made two starts at this distance, he likes Santa Anita (7-2-2-3) and the turf overall (10-4-3-3) and has proven to be a consistent runner. The 6-year-old son of Pollard’s Vision, who is trained by Richard Mandella, will be part of the early pace and is a logical choice to include in all exotic wagers.
Flamboyant won this race a year ago before winning the San Marcos Stakes (GIIT) for owners Bienstock and Winner and trainer Paddy Gallagher. He hasn’t shown a ton of that winning spark in five starts since, though he was third in the Hollywood Turf Cup (GIT) at Del Mar in November. He’ll be a runner who will likely sit closer to the early pace under Flavien Prat and his best is a good bet on top of all tickets.
Chilean-bred Quick Casablanca is a turf marathoner and, while he hasn’t won lately, he did win the San Juan Capistrano (GIIT) over soggy turf back in April. He may run out of room, but his best makes him dangerous for Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally.
Point Piper has logged some serious speed figures, but he’s largely raced against softer company and just doesn’t like to win very much. He’s not a great turf horse and faces a decent field of turf specialists here, but if the race comes off the turf he’s a good bet to win, especially since a good portion of the field will likely scratch. Mario Gutierrez rides for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Conquest Daddyo will make his first start for new owner Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler after being purchased out of the Conquest Stables dispersal for $120,000 at the Keeneland November Sale last year. He’s a Grade II winner on the turf in Canada and is proven on the softer going, so a change of scenery may be all he needs to be effective in picking up a check in here.
The super consistent Itsinthepost steps up into graded company after some nice performances versus optional claiming/allowance company recently. He likes this course and distance and regular jockey Tyler Baze is teaming up again with trainer Jeff Mullins, a combo that astute handicappers know wins at a decent clip. Itsinthepost will certainly be up on the engine and tough to run down if he’s allowed to show the way without a ton of pressure from behind.
Blue Tone is another main track runner who moves up if the race comes off the turf. The other Bob Hess-trained runner seems best suited, though, to softer company regardless of surface.
Brazilian-bred Some in Tieme makes his North American debut after a 10-month layoff. However, he did win the 2015 Linneo de Paula Machado (Brazil’s Grande Criterium [GIT]) and was second in the 2016 Gran Premio Latinoamericano (GIT) over softer grass and could be dangerous if he’s acclimated and fit. Trainer Paulo Lobo has been known to unleash a good import a time or two.
Syntax hasn’t shown much since switching to trainer Phil D’Amato’s care in early 2016. He needs the race of his life to topple the top runners.
The San Gabriel is carded as the ninth and final race of the day on Saturday.