The San Antonio Stakes (GII), which is set to be run for the 80th time at Santa Anita on Saturday, has traditionally served as an important prep for the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) typically contested during the first part of March. The 8 ½-furlong event, which is worth $300,000 this year, has drawn a strong field of seven of the best Southern California-based handicap stars whose connections hope will add their names to the list that includes racing legends and stars Seabiscuit, Round Table, Gun Bow, Ack Ack, Ancient Title, Bates Motel, Criminal Type, Farma Way, Best Pal, Alphabet Soup, Well Armed, Game On Dude and Shared Belief.
Pegram, Watson and Weitman’s Grade I winner Hoppertunity, who took home top honors in this race a year ago, makes his 2017 debut after a pretty solid season last year that also saw him win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and finish third in the Dubai World Cup (GI) behind eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome. The now 6-year-old has been a very consistent runner throughout his 24-race career, earning six wins, six seconds and four third-place finishes to bank $3,886,425.
The light bay son of Any Given Saturday seems to prefer a smidge more distance, but he’s not facing the toughest field of his career in here and has the benefit of hot jockey Flavien Prat aboard. His inside post isn’t the best scenario, but since he’s more of a later running type who will get pace to run at with the presence of Dalmore, all he may need is clear running room as the field turns for home. He has high speed, pace and class numbers and is the runner to beat, even though he won’t offer much value.
Dalmore hasn’t won in four starts since taking the Affirmed Stakes (GIII) but he appears to have had an excuse for each. The son of Colonel John clearly isn’t the best shipper and perhaps the mud in the San Pasqual Stakes (GII) last out wasn’t to his liking, so back at his home base and on a dry track figures to help with improvement. His record over Santa Anita’s main track is 7-3-2-1 and while he’s never won at the distance, his pedigree suggests he can handle the 8 ½ furlongs and trainer Keith Desormeaux has done his best to battle the weather, putting a couple of solid drills into him over the past two weeks. He’ll be on or near the lead under regular jockey Kent Desormeaux and if fit will be a tough customer to run down.
Accelerate is another consistent runner judging by his record of 8-3-2-2 and the son of Lookin at Lucky has put up some triple digit numbers recently. The now 4-year-old won last year’s Los Alamitos Derby (GII) and followed it up with a decent third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) and second in the San Pasqual. He’s not missed a beat and has successfully worked despite the bad weather and appears fit to go the 8 ½ furlongs today. Trainer John Sadler will tighten the girth on the Hronis Racing colorbearer and Tyler Baze will be back aboard. He may offer a little value, especially for the exotics.
Grade I winner Mor Spirit has only one start since splitting the field in last year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) and that was a fourth-place finish in the Malibu Stakes (GI) on opening day. It can be argued that the son of Eskendereya needed the race after such a long layoff and will be more fit heading into this race. The Bob Baffert trainee has been working solidly and steadily, including several in company with Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and Pegasus World Cup winner Arrogate. He’s earned a record of two wins and two seconds at the distance and having Baffert’s big-money rider Mike Smith aboard, will only help. If he runs a race anything like his form of a year ago, he’ll be a good bet for any exotics, if not the win.
The Doug O’Neill-trained Avanti Bella certainly likes Santa Anita (10-3-3-2) and is a state-bred stakes winner over the surface. He’s pretty consistent, even if he doesn’t like to win much, and the son of Include will be back on the fast track he prefers, but he has yet to win at the distance and may struggle to keep up with the better runners in here.
Prospect Park is another who likes Santa Anita and has one win in six tries at the distance, but class-wise appears just a bit below the top choices.
El Huerfano has had most of his success in the optional claiming ranks and has failed to hit the board in any previous graded attempts. Additionally, the 8 ½-furlong distance may just be out of his reach.
Hard Aces is another Hronis Racing entry trained by John Sadler and while a talented horse, he seems to be a touch below the top choices in here and is one who may actually prefer to run farther.
The San Antonio has been set as the day’s 8th race with a post time of 4:00 p.m. PT.