Seven sophomores, including a pair of Grade I winners, will race 1 1/16 miles in Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park. This year’s 81st running of San Felipe is a critical California prep for the Kentucky Derby in that it offers 50 coveted points and establishes the winner as the Golden State’s division leader looking to the Run for the Roses in eight weeks.
Additionally, the San Felipe is the last stop before the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (GI), the signature prep and final decision-maker for the Southern California-based runners with Derby aspirations.
The 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome, who retired in January as North America’s richest racehorse of all time, won the San Felipe three years ago and is a member of an elite club of past winners that includes fellow classic winners and/or Horses of the Year Determine, Sunday Silence, Fusaichi Pegasus, Best Pal and Triple Crown winner Affirmed. On the California road to the first Saturday in May, the San Felipe clearly is a pivotal pit stop.
The weather in Arcadia on Saturday is expected to be picture perfect, offering sunny skies and a high around 80 degrees. The main track will be fast and the turf course will be firm for the 11-race card.
Cheyenne Stable LLC’s undefeated Mastery makes his sophomore debut and his first start since winning the Dec. 10 Los Alamitos Futurity (GI). The Kentucky-bred son of Candy Ride also made his two-turn debut that day and looked good winning from off the pace after setting all the pace in his first two starts, including the six-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (GIII) at Del Mar. Regular jockey Mike Smith, who is also Baffert’s go-to rider, will be back aboard and the pair will break from post four. Smith is looking for his second San Felipe win, having ridden Danzing Candy to victory last year, and Baffert seeks a sixth winner.
Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss’ Gormley won last fall’s Frontrunner Stakes (GI) in only his second career start and was subsequently a well-beaten seventh in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Without missing a beat, he kicked off his three-year-old campaign with an impressive head victory in the Sham Stakes (GIII) over a sloppy track on Jan. 7. The son of Malibu Moon, who already is represented by a Derby winner in 2013 hero Orb, seems to prefer to be on the lead or just behind it and his versatility will be helpful if a speedy pace develops. The John Shirreffs trainee will once again be ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza.
Iliad returns to action following his 3 ½-length win in the Feb. 12 San Vicente Stakes (GII), which was his first start for trainer Doug O’Neill after owner Kaleem Shah pulled all his horses from Baffert’s care at the end of last year. The ridgling son of Ghostzapper was supplemented to this race after his last and, though he’ll be racing around two turns for the first time, he’s bred for the distance and if he has problems, it would likely be more due to inexperience against Grade I winners at the distance and not the distance itself. He will likely be the early pacesetter under jockey Flavien Prat, who was aboard for the San Vicente victory.
Ann Arbor Eddie was the beaten even-money favorite in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) at Golden Gate last out and after crossing the wire in second that day, he was dropped to fourth for bumping with a rival in the stretch. The California-bred son of Square Eddie is consistent, but he’s also probably a cut below the top. He’s one of three who will head postward for O’Neill and is owned by Paul Reddam.
Vending Machine won the grassy Eddie Logan Stakes two back and was then sixth in the California Derby over Golden Gate’s all-weather Tapeta surface last out. The former claimer has some issues here in that he seems to be a better turf horse than dirt horse and is likely better suited to softer company.
Term of Art won the Cecil B. Demille Mile (GIII) at Del Mar in November after bad weather forced the race to be moved from the turf to the good main track. Other than that win and his maiden score, he’s never been a serious win threat in five other career starts. This is a very ambitious spot for the Calumet Farm-owned son of Tiznow.
Looch Racing Stables and J Racing Inc.’s maiden Bluegrass Envy being in here is a bit of a head-scratcher. He’s never been close to winning a race in five career races, though he did earn a second in a Gulfstream Park maiden. Maiden company is probably where he belongs.