The next stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby brings us to Santa Anita on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET for the San Felipe Stakes. This race, a key prep for the Santa Anita Derby, has produced several Triple Crown race winners over the years - California Chrome most recently, along with Point Given, Fusaichi Pegasus, Sunday Silence and Triple Crown winner Affirmed. Pioneerof the Nile, sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was also a San Felipe winner.
So, will there be another runner added to that list this year? This year's field is a seven-horse field, but three tower over the rest. Of course, in recent prep races the horses that have been the clear class haven't been coming through, so maybe you should be looking deeper here. Here's how it sets up (odds are the track morning line):
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Mastery, Mike Smith, 6/5: This undefeated colt is the star of this field at this point - narrowly. He has run only three times but has been the impressive winner in each. He's trained by Bob Baffert, who has won this race five times, so that helps. Despite all of his success over the years, Smith only got his first win in this race last year with Danzig Candy. His last win, which was his first time around two turns, was in the Los Alamitos Futurity. He was an odds-on favorite there, and he has been in all three starts. He likes to run on the lead and will very likely set the pace here as well. The big concern here is that that last win was on Dec. 10, so he is making his three year old debut off a long layoff. Baffert is much better than most at bringing horses back sharp, though, and the horse has been working well. He feels like the horse to beat here, but again keep in mind that for the last three prep races the horse to beat has been beaten. Still, he seems like the only horse in this field with top-end potential, and I'll be all in on him.
Iliad, Flavien Prat, 5/2: This horse won the San Vicente, which is an early February prep for this race. That race was at seven furlongs, and he won it handily. He's a son of Ghostzapper, Horse of the Year in 2004, so the added distance shouldn't be a concern. He also likes to be on the lead, so there is some good drama shaping up. Actually, there is a lot more drama than just the race shape. Doug O'Neill trains this horse. The San Vicente was the first start for Iliad under his care, though. Before that he was with Baffert, but the trainer and long-time owner Kaleem Shah had a falling out, and this was among the high-quality horses that were taken away from Baffert as a result. Shah and Baffert won this race in 2015 with Dortmund, and the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic with Bayern, among many other top races. The breakup was messy, so you can be sure that Baffert will have no interest in losing to a horse he used to train - especially to O'Neill, who isn't exactly Baffert's favorite guy.
Gormley, Victor Espinoza, 9/5: Espinoza got the most recent of his two wins in this race aboard California Chrome, so he has a lucky touch in this race. I feel like this horse owes me some money. He won the Frontrunner Stakes at Santa Anita in October impressively, and off that effort I backed him in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He never fired, and I was out some cash. I'd like to get it back, though I'm not sure this is the spot to do it. He did come back from that race to win the Sham in early January, and he showed a lot of guts in that one - he was passed in the stretch but fought back for the win. The biggest concern I have about him, though, is that he likes to be on the lead just like Mastery and Iliad, and I am least confident in his abilities to stand up to the test. There's another interesting rivalry with this horse - he is owned and trained by the same connections as the great Zenyatta, who was ridden by Mike Smith. So Smith will have to beat the connections of probably his favorite horse.
The rest: The most interesting aspect is that O'Neill also runs Ann Arbor Eddie (8/1) and Term of Art (20/1) in this one. Neither comes close to measuring up to the top three, but with nearly half of the field you have to wonder what he will try to do to work the pace to his advantage. The best bet, perhaps, would be to send one of these two at a crazy early pace and hope that Gormley and Mastery burn themselves out chasing it. Vending Machine (20/1) in an ungraded stakes winner on turf who is taking a big step - too big - up in class here. And Bluegrass Envy (50/1) is a maiden who is winless in five races at Gulfstream Park and has as much chance of winning this race as I would if I ran it in bare feet.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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