by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Santa Anita: The GII, $400,000 San Felipe at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
#1 Uncle Lino: Improving runner really answered the bell last time when he was a good second behind fellow heavyweight Mor Spirit in the local GIII Robert Lewis, in what was his stakes and two-turn debut, and he won’t need to improve much off that run to be a major factor again today. Speedy Sherlock-trained son of Uncle Mo drew a tricky post but did show last time that he doesn’t need to lead to be effective, which is a good attribute in here, as there’s a ton of speed and several who have shown they want to be involved in some way early. If there’s a worry, it’s that he’s not only looking up at ‘Spirit, but also top new shooter Exaggerator, too, so while he showed last time that he can run with the big boys, beating them is a whole other story; tread lightly if landing here.
#2 Danzing Candy: The speed of the speed may need to be caught, but when you look at this race on paper, you get the impression that he will have to absolutely run them all off their feet to reach the line first, as nothing will be easy up front. Now, with that being said, don’t forget the fact that it’s Santa Anita Handicap Day, and this place was a paved highway two years ago when California Chrome won this race (and when Game On Dude won the Big Cap a few races later), so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that speed rules the day again. Up-and-coming son of Twirling Candy has really come to hand of late for Sise, and if you saw that last local optional claiming romp in his two-turn debut, you know that there’s a ton of talent in this corner, but the race flow is the worry, and the gut says it just won’t let him show his true colors today; know him early, not sure about late.
#3 Mor Spirit: The first of two from Baffert is by far the most accomplished member of the field, having won the GI Los Alamitos Futurity in December, then the Lewis last month in his 3-year-old debut, and is surely the main danger to expected favorite Exaggerator on the outside. Of course, it’s not like he’s ever run fast or has been brilliant, and the term “workmanlike” comes to mind when looking over his form, so he’s hardly a lock if one of the new shooters wakes up and fires a lifetime best, as he’s got little margin for error. But there is something to be said for a horse that goes out there and does it every time, and with all the speed signed on, his stalking style really gives him a huge edge in terms of race flow, as he’s going to be revving up when the expected hot splits takes their toll in deep stretch; looms large, once again.
#4 Cupid: Reportedly will be scratched.
Baffert’s second runner is light on experience but long on talent, and he looked like a different horse when he went two turns for the first time and ran off the screen when breaking his maiden over the track and distance last month. The waters get a lot deeper today for this son of Tapit, but we’ve seen these 3yos jump up and improve overnight time and again at this time of the year, so there’s a chance that he takes another step forward and bridges the gap to the graded ranks. He also gets a lot of bonus points in that he stalked and won last time, and in a race with an abundance of speed, that gear will come in handy in the lane, when he’ll need to show what he’s made of; expecting a big run.
#5 I Will Score: Speedster from Hollendorfer has never been behind a horse for the first half-mile in three races, including when he led the field in the Lewis last month, and will surely be lapped to the flank, or maybe even the neck, of ‘Candy early and often. And it’s not like this son of Roman Ruler ran poorly in the Lewis, as he was third, beaten just two lengths, in what was his stakes and two-turn debut, too, so there’s reason to think that he can build off that run, especially since he’s not the inside speed today like he was last time. But, like ‘Lino down inside, if he’s not better than ‘Spirit and now has the big horse on the outside to deal with, too, plus a potential salty new shooter from Baffert, it’s tough to envision him bettering that finish last time; not seeing it.
#6 Smokey Image: Undefeated and virtually untested California-bred has a little bit of the aforementioned California Chrome in him, if for no other reason than that he’s basically priced himself out of the state-bred ranks by dominating his competition. And while we all know what that dual-classic winner went on to accomplish, he came into this race having run fast on several occasions, which is something this son of Southern Image has yet to do, and after six starts, it’s a little implausible to think he’ll start now. Gaines has done a nice job spotting him in stakes where he lays over the competition, which is why he’s earned well over 400k, and it’s now obviously time to see if he can sail in open waters, but this group just looks too tough for him; making him prove it.
#7 Exaggerator: The clear leader of the new shooters gave the undefeated and reigning 2yo champion Nyquist fits for about 6 furlongs in his return, when he was second in the local GII San Vicente going 7 panels, and will now stretch out to two turns as he looks to further validate his case as one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects this year. Trainer Keith Desormeaux hasn’t missed too many dances with this son of Curlin, and he showed last year in good runs when second in the GI Breeders’ Futurity and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland that he can play with the best of his generation. He also seemingly gets the best of it in terms of race flow, too, as while he’s wide, he has a stalking gear that will allow jockey Kent Desormeaux to gauge the proceedings early and decide when to go, which will likely be entering the far turn. So while the proven runners, especially ‘Spirit, are solid, and potential rising star Cupid has a ton of untapped potential, this guy is at the top of the local hill with Nyquist going elsewhere; looks too tough for these.
#3 More Spirit
#1 Uncle Lino
#5 I Will Score
(updated following the report of Cupid’s scratch)