By Noel Michaels
The weather could play a significant role on Big ‘Cap Day at Santa Anita, with heavy rains expected Friday and a 40% chance of showers on the big day Saturday – an 11-race card featuring three Grade 1s — the Santa Anita Handicap, the Kilroe Mile and the Beholder Mile plus the San Felipe Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds.
In preparation for the rain, Santa Anita canceled Friday’s card and moved it to Monday. It’s a move to keep the track sealed and hope for a fast track on Saturday. They’ll undoubtedly call it fast, whether or not it actually is, because certainly there will be moisture in the main track, and it will benefit horseplayers to factor that into their handicapping as much as possible.
Additionally, the turf course is expected to be some degree of less-than-firm.
Here’s a closer look at handicapping Saturday’s top stakes at Santa Anita:
$400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2), 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds (race 6)
One of the most anticipated races on the card is this Derby-points qualifier offering 50-20-10-5 points to the first four finishers. The race drew a field of seven.
The standout appears to be Richard Mandella-trained #6 Forbidden Kingdom, who creamed the likes of Pinehurst last time out in his 3-year-old debut in the San Vicente. Forbidden Kingdom was also second in the Bob Hope last fall behind Messier, who came back and won Robert B. Lewis by 15 lengths. This will be Forbidden Kingdom’s first outing beyond 7 furlongs, but if the distances eventually catch up to this horse, it will be further on down the line and not in the San Felipe where he is the horse to beat. The most notable challenger for the (chalky) exacta boxes will be #5 Doppelganger, trained by Bob Baffert, but Doppelganger will need to make up 2 ¾ lengths on Forbidden Kingdom, which was his margin of defeat in the San Vicente.
The Play: Bet the favorites in a high probability but low payoff exacta box with #5 Doppelganger and #6 Forbidden Kingdom or scrap the box and just play the exacta one way with your preference on top.
$600,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), 1 1/4 miles, 4-year-olds & up (race 11)
The Big ‘Cap drew an eight-horse field, but as in the San Felipe, the race seems like it will come down to a battle between the two favorites, #6 Express Train trained by John Shirreffs and #8 Stilleto Boy trained by Ed Moger, Jr. Express Train appeared on his way to victory in last year’s edition with a big lead in the stretch but then settled for second when caught by Idol in the late stages.
While there is no doubting Express Train’s ability as the horse enters the race off a big victory in his second straight running of the San Pasqual (G2), there still is at least a question mark hanging of his ability to get the 1 ¼-mile distance. Stilleto Boy is unproven at 1 ¼ miles as well, but he’s untested except for his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
While Stilleto Boy is winless in several months, he has continued to improve versus top-rung competition, just as he did last time out when third in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). His chances in this spot look entirely more realistic.
There doesn’t appear to be many good alternatives to these two. If you are seeking a better price, perhaps the options are the Bob Baffert-trained #1 Spielberg, who has shown flashes of being able to put it all together at points in his career, or #3 Warrant, who is the wild card in the field for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Warrant was successful in an under-the-radar sophomore campaign last season with victories in races such as the Oklahoma Derby and the Texas Derby, which was won over a sloppy track.
The Play: Bet #8 Stilleto Boy to win and play the chalky exacta box with him and #6 Express Train.
This race features the day’s best bet, Brendan Walsh-trained #8 Space Traveller, who should get revenge in this otherwise wide open-looking 12-horse field. Space Traveller exits an unfortunate loss in the Pegasus Turf (G1) when he was bottled up in traffic when loaded and full of run, then attempted to come up the inside in the stretch but had to be ridden with caution and steadied at the rail of the turf chute and ultimately settled for third in a race he should have won. Euro all-star rider Jamie Spencer, who was not an all-star in the Pegasus Turf, is back aboard for the mount, and Space Traveller should roll versus this field given a decent trip.
The other top contenders in the Kilroe include the top finishers from last month’s Thunder Road, #4 Count Again trained by Phil D’Amato and #2 Subconscious trained by Richard Mandella, and New York shipper #7 Tell Your Daddy who draws Johnny Velazquez aboard for trainer Tom Morley. In his 2021 campaign, Tell Your Daddy was second in the Keeneland Turf Mile and won the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga over a yielding turf, which is notable because similar turf conditions are expected Saturday.
The Play: Bet #8 Space Traveller to win and box him in exactas with #7 Tell Your Daddy. Play trifectas with Space Traveller keyed on top with three horses in the underneath spots – including #7 Tell Your Daddy and #2 Subconscious and #4 Count Again.
A field of six was drawn, but there are some heavy-hitters in the mix including #3 As Time Goes By trained by Bob Baffert, #5 Miss Bigly trained by Phil D’Amato, and #6 Envoutante, trained by Kenny McPeek. Envoutante kept the best company throughout her 4-year-old campaign last year with her losses coming to the likes of divisional leaders Letruska and Shedaresthedevil.
When Envoutante stepped out away from the big names, she often came out on top as she did in the Shawnee at Churchill Downs, and more recently and importantly in the Fall City at Churchill back in November over a sloppy track. If there’s moisture in the track Saturday, she will handle it. Miss Bigly won the Bayakoa last time out at Oaklawn, and As Time Goes By exits back to back wins in Los Alamitos’s version of the Bayakoa and in January’s La Canada at Santa Anita.
There are two other Grade 2 stakes on the card that go as races 4-5 – the $200,000 San Carlos at 7 furlongs, and the $200,000 Buena Vista at a mile on turf for fillies and mares.
In the San Carlos, Bob Baffert trains two of the principals, #4 Cezanne and #6 Eight Rings, but the edge goes to the Craig Lewis-trained California-bred #1 Brickyard Ride who is in career-best form coming out of back-to-back state-bred stakes wins with strong speed figures. He owns eight career wins at Santa Anita from 11 outings. Look for some value in the race by hooking up Brickyard Ride in the exacta boxes with up-and-comer #3 Canadian Pride, trained by Peter Eurton.
In the Buena Vista, #5 Leggs Galore is a versatile speed horse with the ability to win from 5 furlongs up to the mile distance. She is a Santa Anita horse for the course for trainer Phil D’Amato with five wins from seven lifetime starts over this turf course. Play her with #11 Mucho Unusual, who was runner-up in this race last year.
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.