Used to be that the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita was an important stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby (GI). Even though last year’s winner, Nyquist, went on to win in Louisville on the first Saturday in May and the runner-up, Exaggerator, won the Preakness Stakes (GI), the race has still kind of become Santa Anita’s evil red-headed step child among Derby preps. Maybe it’s because of the seven-furlong distance or maybe because of it’s date on the calendar, but regardless it’s hard to overlook the slew of good horses who have won the race, which is named for the famous boulevard that runs through Los Angeles.
In addition to Nyquist, other notable names on the list of San Vicente winners are Kentucky Derby heroes Hill Gail, Swaps, Lucky Debonair, Majestic Prince and Silver Charm, as well as a host of other graded stakes winners and champions. This year five will challenge for the winner’s share of the $200,000 purse and all but one will be making their graded stakes debuts. No Derby points are on the line, but with a good performance it’s hard to imagine that the connections of the winner won’t continue down the Triple Crown Trail.
The rain has finally left Southern California and by post time for this race on Sunday, the track should be back to fast. The afternoon high will be warm and reach the lower 70s.
Fox Hill Farms’ Battle of Midway makes his first start against winners after breaking his maiden at first asking three weeks ago and looked good doing it, stalking the pace and dueling for a bit in the lane before drawing away to win. The well-bred Jerry Hollendorfer trainee posted a couple of works since and what they lack in speed likely more than make up for in maintaining fitness. Hall of Famer Mike Smith takes over for the injured Drayden Van Dyke and if the colt repeats his last against this bunch he’s a good bet to have his picture taken when all is said and done.
Aquamarine also faces winners after breaking his maiden at first asking last month as well. The pedigree of the Zayat Stables-owned son of promising sire Gemologist indicates this seven-furlong distance is right up his alley and he has been working well in the mornings, which isn’t unusual for any Bob Baffert trainee. In his debut he sat off the lead, but absent a clear-cut frontrunner in here he may inherit the lead after the break under jockey Stewart Elliott. A top performance puts him right in the thick of things here.
Kaleem Shah’s Iliad makes his first start since being transferred to the care of Doug O’Neill and since breaking his maiden in his second start at Los Alamitos back in December. So far the owner has yet to win a race since pulling his horses from longtime trainer Bob Baffert’s care, but this colt may be the one to change it. He’s been working well at Santa Anita, including his last half-mile in a quick :47 3/5 last week, and top jockey Rafael Bejarano picks up the mount.
It will be hard to have too much confidence in Blabimir as he’s had almost as many DNFs as starts, including his last in the Sham Stakes (GIII) where he bobbled at the break and was eased by jockey Mario Gutierrez. In November he was also eased and walked off in a maiden race. No telling what’s happening with this one, but with solid other choices it makes sense to steer clear of Blabimir here.
Law Abidin Citizen was impressive breaking his maiden from off the pace two weeks ago. He’s a good horse, but he’s kept company with softer foes and it took him a while to finally reach the winner’s circle. But perhaps the biggest issue with him is that he drew the rail at Santa Anita going seven furlongs, which is notoriously difficult to win from.
The San Vicente is the day’s fourth race and will leave the gate at 1:59 p.m. PT.