For a race expected to answer so many questions about next month’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (GI) and who the legit contenders from the west would be, Tuesday’s San Antonio Handicap (GII) result could not have created more confusion.
In an upset of enormous proportions, longshot Giant Expectations and jockey Gary Stevens wired the field after setting a pace that can only be described as pedestrian. The New York-bred son of Frost Giant crossed the wire 3 ¾ lengths ahead of fellow longshot Accelerate, while upsetting the heavily favored Collected, who was third, and casting serious doubt on whether or not Santa Anita will be represented at all in the world’s richest horse race at Gulfstream Park in four weeks.
After Top of the Game scratched, five remained in the 1 1/16-mile race and, as expected, Speedway Stables’ Grade 1 winner and confirmed frontrunner Collected was the heavy 2-5 favorite off a strong second to likely Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) last out. When the gates opened, however, it wasn’t Mike Smith on Collected who made the lead, but rather Gary Stevens aboard 13-1 outsider Giant Expectations. And as that pair cruised easily and unchallenged through splits of :24.69, :49.19 and 1:12.94, Collected sat in a very unfamiliar spot at the rear of the field.
As Stevens guided the Peter Eurton-trained Giant Expectations into the top of the stretch, Smith finally got busy on Collected, who was still near the back midway on the turn, and Flavien Prat was working hard on the second betting choice, Hoppertunity, who appeared to make a premature move up the backstretch, but flattened out badly and was spinning his wheels. After posting the mile in 1:36.84, Giant Expectations stopped the Teletimer in 1:43.07 over a fast main track.
“It looked like we were going to see a sub-:23 first quarter,” Stevens said, “and we covered the first quarter in :24 and change and the half at almost :50, and the race was pretty much over. He’s got a great turn of foot the last quarter-mile and it was a lot of fun.
“He’s a good colt. I don’t think people know how good his Breeders’ Cup race was (sixth in the Dirt Mile); he absolutely got left at the start and didn’t like the dirt getting kicked in his face. He was really the only horse that closed any ground at all that day. He’s come back and worked brilliant.”
Giant Expectations earned $180,000 for his latest graded stakes score, having previously won the Pat O’Brien Stakes (GII) at Del Mar this past summer, and his career line now stands at 13-4-3-1, $449,200.
Giant Expectations returned $29, $8.20 and $3.20. Accelerate paid $7 and $2.80 at odds of nearly 9-1, while Collected was good for $2.10.
As for who could make the gate for the Pegasus, it’s anyone’s guess.
“I don’t know [what race might be next],” Eurton said in regard to the San Antonio winner’s plans. “I’m just going to enjoy this. We’re not nominated to anything.”
A none-too-pleased Bob Baffert, trainer of Collected and Hoppertunity, had no comment on the Pegasus World Cup, only saying, “[Collected] should have been on the lead and the other horse [Hoppertunity] was too close.”
Smith took the blame for Collected’s odd journey.
“It was a bad ride,” Smith said. “It was my fault. I slipped leaving the gate. We should have been on the lead. Then they were going too slow and we couldn’t get there in the end.”