The San Felipe Stakes is a great race - probably my favorite one of this pre-main event round of Kentucky Derby prep races. For starters, it's on a great card - the undercard of the Big Cap. Second, it is a big prep for the Santa Anita Derby and a great measure of where the West Coast runners are at. West Coast horses have been hugely important the last several years in the Derby picture. Finally, there is just so much history here. Last year Dortmund put up a big effort in winning. The year before, California Chrome took it down en route to Derby and Preakness wins. Classic winners Sunday Silence, Fusaichi Pegasus, Point Given and Pioneerof the Nile have all used victories here as springboards to greater glory. This is a race that matters.
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This year, as has become the norm lately, we are seeing a stacked field in this one. When looking at this year's race, which comes to us on Saturday afternoon, there are four horses that stand out as the most interesting. Any of these would vault to the top tier of Derby contenders with a win. They all already have to be considered among the 20 or 25 best contenders right now.
Mor Spirit, Gary Stevens, 2/1: Bob Baffert has a three-race Triple Crown winning streak going, so we obviously have to pay attention to any horse he has in the game right now. After an incredible win in his second maiden try last October, he lost his first stakes race a month later. He has bounced back strong, though, winning his last two stakes outings in California handily. That means that he has three wins in four starts. He's a son of Eskendereya, who would have been the Derby favorite in 2010 before a training injury ended his career a week before that race. The breeding is very solid for the horse - distance shouldn't be an issue. Having Baffert in charge is obviously a positive for the horse, too - he is a master of three year olds, and his win last year in this race was his fifth. It's also a big plus having Stevens on board. Stevens teamed with Baffert to win this race with Point Given, and there isn't a jockey any better than him at settling a young horse and judging pace. Add it all up and you have the horse to beat in this field. He'll have to be at his best against this field, though.
Exaggerator, Kent Desormeaux, 5/2: He's a son of the great Curlin out of a mare with Seattle Slew as a grandsire, so the breeding is fantastic. He can run. He also looks like a horse that can run. The problem, though, is that in three of his four races he hasn't quite been good enough. He was second in the Breeders' Futurity. He was fourth next time out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. After winning an underwhelming Delta Jackpot, he came back and was second in the San Vicente behind Nyquist. He definitely has bridesmaid syndrome, and that could be a problem in this tough field. Kent Desormeaux rides and his brother Keith trains, so chemistry among the connections is assured.
Danzig Candy, Mike Smith, 4/1: If you are going to have Gary Stevens in a big race then you have to have Mike Smith. They go together like bees and honey. Smith doesn't seem to have quite as good of a horse, but the gap is small. This horse, with breeding that I would call solid more than thrilling, will be making his stakes debut here. His first race at the end of November was a total disaster, but he has bounced back with two solid wins. He needs to get better at getting out of the gate, and he will face a tougher trip here than he has in his two previous wins, but he's a factor.
Uncle Lino, Fernando Perez, 8/1: Like at least four other significant contenders on the road to the Derby, this horse is a son of Uncle Mo, the 2010 two year old champion. Like the others, the concern for this horse as a result of that lineage is whether he is capable of the Derby distance. His damsire is 2002 champion sire Orientate, so that doesn't ease the concerns, either. Classy breeding, but not particularly stamina-rich. This horse has just one win in four starts, but he was a solid second behind Mor Spirit last time out. That's something for him to build on here.
Smokey Image, Victor Espinoza, 4/1: Espinoza won the Triple Crown last year, so he's an obvious asset here. The horse could use his help. The good news is that he has run six times without a loss, and the last three have been in stakes races. He has run impressively each time - by more than eight lengths last time out. The bad news, though, is that none of those races were graded stakes, so he is taking a big step up in class. I would like to believe in the horse - at the price he is likely to go off at, especially - but his last three Beyer figures have been exactly the same, and not exactly brisk. The lack of improvement is a big concern.
This Saturday is a magnificent day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in both big stakes races - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this weekend. The first one is the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Park and Saturday early evening is the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita
We all know that the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race of them all, but the BEST value is in all the Kentucky Derby prep races before the big event. Raphael Esparza; Former Race and Sports Book director from the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has all the inside connections and the years of experience. Build your Kentucky Derby bankroll with the pony expert. Last year Esparza cashed with both stakes races as he hit the Tampa Bay Derby with Carpe Diem and the San Felipe Stakes with Dortmund. Esparza is coming off a nice winning day at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago, and he is looking for two out of three Winning Saturdays at the track.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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