By Noel Michaels
Cheers to a great day of winning wagers at The Great Race Place on Saturday.
It’s Big ‘Cap Day at Santa Anita with a mandatory Pick 6 payout that kicks off with the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and includes the $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) for older horses.
These two races are part of an 11-race card that should be of immense interest to bettors thanks to the mandatory payout. Four graded stakes races are part of the package – races 6-11 — so we’re here to help you get two-thirds of the way home to cash a big ticket.
The Weather Channel is forecasting temperatures in the high 60’s on Saturday with mostly sunny skies and winds from 10-15 mph.
Here are my spot plays. Best of luck.
San Felipe Stakes (Race 6)
A small but select field of seven is entered for the 1 1/16-mile Derby prep – and steppingstone to the Santa Anita Derby (G2) on April 3. Of course, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has the main attractions. Likely favorite #1 Life Is Good has just two starts, but those have been impressive wire-to-wire wins — a maiden win at Del Mar and a stakes debut victory in the 1-mile Sham (G3) on Jan. 2. Speed and the rail with regular rider Mike Smith aboard, the colt is the horse to catch.
Also in the lineup is stablemate #3 Medina Spirit, who lost to Life Is Good in the Sham but then returned to flatter Life Is Good when winning his most recent start in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) over a field that included Saturday rival #7 Roman Centurian trained by Simon Callaghan. Roman Centurian shows a good improving pattern, which will need to continue because his two losses have come at the hands of Baffert’s favorites in this race. Another interesting contender is #2 Dream Shake, trained by Peter Eurton. Dream Shake won his maiden at first asking in a 6 ½-furlong sprint at Santa Anita on Feb. 7 with a
big 96 Beyer figure, but what was impressive was the way he did it, rallying from eighth in a nine-horse field to win going away like a horse that wants more distance. The sky looks like the limit and Eurton shows a 24% win percentage with a high ROI with horses stretching out from sprints to routes.
The Play: Bet Dream Shake to post the upset, and box Dream Shake with Baffert’s pair of Life Is Good and Medina Spirit in the trifectas. In the Pick 6, if you have enough money to cover four horses in this leg, use this trio and add in Roman Centurian.
San Carlos (Race 8)
A 7-furlong Grade 2 stakes worth $200,000 that has drawn a nine-horse field. While the race seems competitive at first blush, one horse stands out — #6 Brickyard Ride trained by Craig Lewis. Brickyard Ride has become a whirlwind Santa Anita horse for the course with four wins in five career dirt outings at this track (plus a 2-for-2 turf sprint record here as well). Brickyard Ride has gone wire-to-wire in his three recent Santa Anita starts dating back to last September (two dirt, one turf), and his last win was his best when he captured the Cal Cup Sprint with ease with a big speed figure. The only question: he’s untested at 7 furlongs. However, he appears to be the dominant speed entered and will enjoy a tactical advantage up front.
If Brickyard Ride cannot get the final furlong, this might be the spot to give the benefit of the doubt to #1 Storm the Court, who is still looking for his first win since the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Peter Eurton. Storm the Court has tried both long and short and both turf and dirt and has run competitive races and faced a lot of high-level graded stakes competition. His best races seem to come at Santa Anita, so that’s a plus. John Velazquez picks up the mount. If you are averse to playing Storm the Court, #8 Loud Mouth is also a viable option. He lost to Brickyard Ride in the Cal Cup, but he’s improved over the course of his last four starts for trainer Steve Knapp, including a Del Mar victory in the Cary Grant at 7 furlongs.
The Play: #6 Brickyard Ride to win, and box him in the exactas and trifectas along with #1 Storm the Court and #8 Loud Mouth. If you’re playing the Pick 6, it’s worthwhile to spread in a couple of the
other legs, so either single Brickyard Ride or go two deep along with your preference between Storm the Court and Loud Mouth.
Kilroe Mile (Race 9)
This Grade 1 turf mile worth $400,000 stacks up as the most competitive of Saturday’s stakes, with few toss outs entered among the 10-horse field. If you’re playing the Pick 6 you’ll likely have to treat this leg as such by spreading with multiple horses.
The edge goes to #9 Ride a Comet trained by Mark Casse, who looks like the real deal after successfully making the switch back to turf last time out to win the 1-mile Tropical Turf (G3) at Gulfstream with a strong speed figure. That win made this horse 3-for-3 in his comeback from a year layoff after a couple of wins at Woodbine, including the Kennedy Road (G2). Casse has successfully shipped this horse to SoCal in the past, having won the 2018 Del Mar Derby (G2). These days, this horse seems better than ever.
Contention in the Kilroe Mile runs deep. Strong cases could also be made for at least five horses, including #1 Smooth Like Strait, a multiple graded stakes winner trained by Mike McCarthy who won the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) in his last start; #2 Hit the Road, a Santa Anita turf horse for the course who has won three in a row including the 1-mile Thunder Road (G3) in his last start for trainer Dan Blacker; #3 Social Paranoia, a turf mile specialist who ships in for Todd Pletcher with wins in Belmont’s Poker (G3) and Gulfstream’s Appleton (G3) to his credit last year; #6 Flavius, who won the $700,000 Tourist Mile last year for Chad Brown; and #10 Flying Scotsman, who showed signs of life for trainer Jack Sisterson with a wire-to-wire win at Gulfstream last time out.
The Play: #9 Ride a Comet to win. Use him and the other five top contenders, #1 Smooth Like Strait, #2 Hit the Road, #3 Social Paranoia, #6 Flavius, and #10 Flying Scotsman as a spread race in your Pick 6 sequences.
Santa Anita Handicap (Race 10)
The feature is the $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. All eyes will be on undefeated #2 Maxfield for trainer Brendan Walsh, who could stamp himself as the leader of the handicap division with a win on the heels of losses by Charlatan and Knicks Go in the Saudi Cup. This will be his toughest test to date, but he should be able to pass it.
Maxfield successfully made his 4-year-old debut last time out with regular rider Florent Geroux aboard when rallying to effortlessly destroy the field in the Mineshaft Stakes (G3) at the Fair Grounds in what was meant as a prep for this race. Maxfield is now 5-for-5, including stakes wins in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at age 2, the Matt Winn (G3) at age 3, and then in the Fair Grounds’ Tenacious Stakes in December — his comeback race off a seven-month layoff. Maxfield always seems to show up with big efforts and looks more talented than the competition.
Maxfield looks like a single, but that doesn’t mean the race isn’t playable in the exotics. Other contenders when considering a trifecta include the winner of the local prep — the San Pasqual (G2) — last time out; #5 Express Train; and the speedy San Pasqual runner-up, #7 Tizamagician, who seems to have an outside chance to get loose up front. Finally, #8 King Guillermo enters as a live wild card despite losing big in the San Pasqual. His best efforts came when winning the Tampa Bay Derby and running second to Nadal in the Arkansas Derby in 2020. He could be dangerous here.
The Play: If you’re playing the Pick 6, single #2 Maxfield. Then key Maxfield in the trifectas above the three horses mentioned, #5 Express Train, #7 Tizamagician, and #8 King Guillermo.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.