12/22/2016 1:30PM

Baffert loaded with 3-year-olds

Benoit & Associates
With his CashCall Futurity victory, Mastery is already a Grade 1 winner for Bob Baffert.

ARCADIA, Calif. – American Pharoah has been retired for more than a year and already has spent a very active first season at stud. At trainer Bob Baffert’s barn, he’s the gift who has kept on giving.

The success of American Pharoah, who in 2015 became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, made Baffert even more sought-after than usual by owners at the yearling sales in the fall of 2015 and at the 2-year-old sales earlier this year. As a result, Baffert has amassed a lineup of soon-to-be 3-year-olds that should strike early, late, and often at the Santa Anita meeting that opens Monday.

“This is the best crop of 2-year-olds I’ve ever had, and it’s all because of American Pharoah,” Baffert said.

Among his male 2-year-olds, best known already are Grade 1 stakes winners Mastery and Klimt. Recent maiden winners American Anthem, Beach Bum, and Iliad have shown plenty of talent. Dabster, set to debut in race 3 at Santa Anita on Monday, is a $1 million son of Curlin who has trained with promise. Dre Dan, by Union Rags, and Reach the World, by Tapit – who both should debut soon – look like colts who will thrive as distances increase over the winter and into the spring. Aquamarine, a son of Gemologist, “is really, really fast,” Baffert said.

The race in which Dabster competes on Monday looks loaded. The field for the seven-furlong race includes First Degree Burn – yet another Baffert trainee – who was third to stablemate Beach Bum in his lone start, and Pavelski, a Street Boss colt trained by Phil D’Amato who is held in high regard.

Pavelski is named for Joe Pavelski, captain of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Perhaps he’ll follow in the footsteps of the 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist, named for Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings.

John Shirreffs has two colts to follow in Gormley, the FrontRunner winner, and Royal Mo, who beat maidens at Del Mar after splitting Beach Bum and First Degree Burn. Shirreffs said Gormley is set to make his 3-year-old debut Jan. 7 in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes, the first of the two-turn graded stakes races this meet that lead to the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 8, and, ultimately, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Nearing their debuts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer are Battle of Midway, a son of Smart Strike, and Colonist, by Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of American Pharoah.

But Hollendorfer’s strength is with his fillies, most notably the brilliant Unique Bella, who walloped maidens at Del Mar and is set to make her stakes debut in the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Ynez on Jan. 8.

Hollendorfer also has Sircat Sally, who is unbeaten in two fast starts, both against California-breds, and It Tiz Well, a daughter of Arch who crushed maidens by 10 lengths in her second start Sunday at Los Alamitos. The barn remains high on Princess Julia, a troubled fifth in her debut at Del Mar who tries again Monday at Santa Anita in race 5, a 5 1/2-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies. Also in that Monday race are John Sadler-trained Selcourt, a daughter of Tiz Wonderful, and Baffert-trained Beautiful Princess, a Giant’s Causeway filly, both debuting off a series of sharp drills.

As with his colts, Baffert has depth with his fillies. Best known are Grade 1 winner Noted and Quoted, who missed the Los Alamitos Starlet with a minor illness, and American Cleopatra, American Pharoah’s full sister, who has just returned to training after getting some time off. Life’s Blessings, who during the summer at Del Mar won her lone start, should return later in the Santa Anita meet, and Hooriya, a Creative Cause filly, is a few works away from her debut.

The current division leader, though, is Champagne Room, who is the front-runner to win the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly following her upset victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 5. That leads toward the Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks on April 8, and then the Kentucky Oaks on May 5.

“She probably didn’t want a break, but it was needed to keep her fresh for the spring,” said her trainer, Pete Eurton. “It was the right thing to do.”

Abel Tasman, the Los Alamitos Starlet winner, will wait until deep into the meet to make her first start at 3 for trainer Simon Callaghan. Shane’s Girlfriend, runaway winner of the Delta Princess for Doug O’Neill, will either face Unique Bella in the Santa Ynez or take on males such as Gormley and possibly American Anthem in the Sham.