March 9th, 2013 − Santa Anita

San Felipe Stakes

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By Jeremy Plonk

Date: Saturday, March 9, 2013
Track: Santa Anita Park
Kentucky Derby Points Awarded: 50-20-10-5
Distance: 1 1/16 miles (2 turns) on dirt

HANDICAPPERS’ RECAP: The presence of a third, legitimate speed horse to the Grade 2 San Felipe lineup made the apparent showdown between lightning rods FLASHBACK (Bob Baffert) and GOLDECENTS (Doug O’Neill) more than a two-horse affair. The fleet sprinter SALUTOS AMIGOS (Eric Guillot) turned out to be a thorn in the side of the unrate-able favorites around the clubhouse turn, and the field’s closer to capitalize wound up being the rallying winner HEAR THE GHOST (Jerry Hollendorfer). The son of Ghostzapper became the sixth San Felipe Stakes winner in the last seven years to stretch out in distance off a sprint prep to take this event. HEAR THE GHOST also kept a red-hot month for the Hollendorfer barn going, striking at nearly a 40-percent clip at Santa Anita during that span. FLASHBACK maintained his speed better than the others and held for second while deep closer TIZ A MINISTER (Paul Aguirre) certainly benefitted from the weakened leaders.

ON THE CLOCK: A second quarter-mile equally as quick as the first set the table in the San Felipe. The splits carved among the top three were 22.97, 22.98, 23.99, 25.76 and 6.64. You can see this was a classic, fast early and slow late race that was completed in 1:42.34. The overall time doesn’t jump off the page as it was only two lengths quicker than $20,000 claimer Spit Ball ran earlier on the card. This was a very fast and speed-favoring track on this day at Santa Anita to boot. The final time also clocked about two or three lengths slower than the San Felipe last year headed by Creative Cause and Bodemeister. The Trakus data shows HEAR THE GHOST finished up in 25.39 and 6.21 over the final five-sixteenths, which was solid, but not phenomenal.

THE EYE TEST: Before we harp on the pace and the chalk, let’s give due to the winner, HEAR THE GHOST. Folks may take away from this race that he was a closer who benefitted from the trip, but watch the replay and you’ll see a horse who broke better than FLASHBACK. The GHOST literally raced on the tails of the two speedy favorites going around the clubhouse turn, but showed enough gears and patience to back off of it and let them commit their pace blunders. In essence, he proved quick enough to break and secure position, relaxed enough to come back to his rider, and then finish with a solid run. That’s a big-time performance in just your third lifetime start and first time beyond six furlongs. We talk about the inexperience of FLASHBACK being an excuse, but this horse had even less experience than his favored rival.

Neither Kevin Krigger on GOLDENCENTS or Julien Leparoux on FLASHBACK were able to rate their mounts with much success as they turned onto the backstretch. GOLDENCENTS had an experience edge with four prior starts including a pair of two-turn races. FLASHBACK had only two previous outings, and one of those was vs. three rivals in a situation that proved too easy to be fruitful to his development. FLASHBACK got more out of this San Felipe loss by a wide margin than he did in a romping win in the Grade 2 Lewis Memorial a month ago. He also spotted the field 3-5 pounds apiece in this race.

GOLDENCENTS at live blush disappointed badly, but the more I watched the replay and considered his final position only beaten a few lengths, it was better than first thought. He must rate better in the Santa Anita Derby to prove he belongs in the Kentucky Derby discussion, but that final 9-furlong exam always has been critical of every Louisville aspirant no matter the season. With three straight ascending Beyer Speed Figures going into this race, the Formulator stats indicated prior that O’Neill trainees struggle mightily in maintaining that form a fourth start at the highest class levels. Maybe he simply bounced a tad as the barn’s history indicates is plausible.

TIZ A MINISTER made up 17 lengths over a track that did not flatter his running style. For the second straight race, he’s closed well under Garrett Gomez and has taken the mantle as the top Cal-bred sophomore router. But his gallop-out was easily the least impressive of the top four. KOCHEES looked fantastic pre-race but delivered nothing when it counted. OMEGA STAR showed nothing despite a clean trip and disappointed this eye once again. It’s time to admit I overrated his maiden win on the visuals and he’s simply not this good right now. SALUTOS AMIGOS was beaten only eight lengths in fifth, and you would assume he should have collapsed terribly given this race set-up. Did the speed/track bias carry him a little bit – or was his relatively modest showing a sign that these top horses weren’t all that great?

PROJECTING THE SAN FELIPE STAKES FORWARD: Expect to see the top four finishers all back in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby with due cause. HEAR THE GHOST, FLASHBACK, TIZ A MINISTER and GOLDENCENTS all earned the next step. Nothing else here belongs on the trail right now. Note that Demonic (John Sadler) missed the San Felipe with a foot bruise but still is pointed toward joining the Santa Anita Derby cast. FLASHBACK can take solace in a performance that rang eerily similar to stablemate Bodemeister’s defeat in last year’s San Felipe before that one freaked in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. With similar resumes and styles, and potential talents, we’ll see if Baffert can strike gold twice.