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Cashing on Big Cap Day
A large field of 13 or 14 horses will present an interesting challenge for horseplayers focusing on the historic $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.
The Big Cap is one of three Grade 1's on Saturday. The others are the $300,000 Kilroe at one mile on the turf and the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride.
While strange things can happen in any race, the Oaks looms a relatively soft spot for 2008 juvenile filly champion Stardom Bound, who may be 2-5 or lower to beat a small field and attract her share of bridge jumpers, should Santa Anita permit show wagering. The two other Grade 1 stakes on the Big Cap card and the $100,000 Honest Lady Stakes at six furlongs should require more in-depth handicapping with potentially larger payoffs.
Here is a preview of these three stakes, with a handicapping perspective that could prove to be key to each outcome.
The Pro-Ride synthetic surface has been kinder to speed types than it was during Breeder's Cup week last fall, but the suspicion here is that there will be several speed types in the starting lineup setting the race up for a stalk-and-go type, or a deep closer.
Three who fit that bill include the consistent stretch-runner Foxy Danseur, who rallied to win a good allowance race at this distance Feb. 1, and the Doug O'Neill-trained pair of Mistical Plan and Modification, although only one may actually start.
Mistical Plan, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks at 1 1/16 miles in 2007, would be the most formidable if entered. In the Honest Lady, this Grade 1 winner at six furlongs would be turning back to to that distance after showing early speed in the Grade 1 Santa Maria at 1 1/16 miles over the track Feb. 14.
Modification, also turning back in distance, won an N2X allowance race at one mile over this track Feb. 4 and was a non-threatening fourth in the Grade 1 La Canada Stakes at nine furlongs on Feb. 15.
A relatively small group of male rivals will be facing the high-class Bobby Frankel-trained mare Ventura in this spot. Winner of the $1 million BC Filly and Mare Sprint at seven furlongs on the Pro-Ride here last fall, Ventura has strong credentials for this turf test at this distance. Last fall, Ventura won the Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont and was a bang-up second to male rivals in the Woodbine Mile. As good as she is, Ventura's biggest problem may be the probable lack of a fast, contested pace.
Unless the connections of Desert Code or Matto Mondo suddenly shift plans and enter the Kilroe, Ventura will be facing four other stretch-running types - Artiste Royal, Dixie Chatter, Global Hunter and Mr Napper Tandy - plus one front-running sprinter, Hewitts, who is stretching out in distance and trying grass around two turns for the first time in his 12-race career.
As the probable lone speed, Hewitts is a logical upset possibility, but he did blow a clear lead in a six-furlong turf sprint at Hollywood Park last fall. Given a front-running target, the most intriguing upset prospect may be Dixie Chatter, who has pace-pressing races in his resume.
Trained by Hall of Famer Dick Mandella, Dixie Chatter was a Grade 1 stakes winner as a 2-year-old in 2007 and won the one-mile Oceanside on the Del Mar turf last year.
Also, in his 2008 finale on Nov. 30, Dixie Chatter was a pace-chasing fourth after making a good bid in the upper stretch of the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby. The top two finishers in that Grade 1 turf race were Court Vision and Cowboy Cal, logical contenders in the Big Cap. In his most recent outing, Dixie Chatter rallied with interest for fourth in the the nine-furlong Strub on the Pro-Ride Feb. 7. That good showing in his first outing of the year would seem put Dixie Chatter in line for a forward move on Saturday.
Santa Anita Handicap
In this historic winter race for 4-year-olds and up, the marquee horses are Eastern invader Einstein, Strub winner Cowboy Cal, and the consistent, if win-starved, Tiago, whose career record includes a $2.3 million bankroll but no wins since the Oaklawn Handicap 11 months and six starts ago. Yet, just as there is a pace issue in the Kilroe Mile and the Honest Lady, the key to this race may be the overabundance of deep closers. Here is a thumnbnail sketch of prospective starters with jockeys, assigned weights, and respective running-style tendencies.
* Blue Exit, Robby Albarado, 115 pounds; a vastly improved deep closer who was second at 19-1 in the Strub.
* Cause, Jon Court, 110; a deep closer who was a relatively close sixth at 120-1 in the Strub.
* Champs Elysees, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118; a deep closer who was second in this race last year, but all five career wins have been on grass.
* Colonel John, Garrett Gomez, 119; a mid-pack closer who won the 2008 Santa Anita Derby and Travers at this distance on the main track. Ambitiously stretching out sharply from the seven-furlong Malibu run Dec. 26, but Gomez is a big plus these days.
* Court Vision, Ramon Dominguez, 119; Eastern-based 4-year-old deep closer did win the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby over Cowboy Cal last fall, but has made only two starts on synthetic tracks.
* Cowboy Cal, John Velazquez, 120; Todd Pletcher trainee is stoutly bred and has shown solid pace-pressing form at nine furlongs in his two stakes wins over this track this year.
* Dansant, Tyler Baze, 116; European invader has competed only in minor stakes abroad, but has raced near the pace often at 10 to 12 furlongs. Hard to gauge.
* Einstein, Julien Leparoux, 121; Versatile, classy campaigner with graded stakes wins on turf and dirt has never tried Pro-Ride, but did handle 1 3/8 miles on grass in Florida last year.
* Heroi Do Bafra, Martin Garcia, 111; a stretch-running winner of a $45,000 claiming route over the track, he is ambitiously placed.
* Magnum, Joel Rosario, 116; 8-year-old deep closer improved suddenly to finish third at 77-1 in the San Pasqual and won the San Antonio at 16-1 with a stalking trip. Vastly improved and worth a look in exotics.
* Matto Mondo, Rafael Bejarano, 116; turf winner at one mile in last two from a stalking position seems to be in the wrong race. But Bejarano is a plus.
* Monba, Edgar Prado, 114; Pletcher-trained winner of 2008 Blue Grass on Polytrack at Keeneland showed some life in first start since troubled Kentucky Derby when he rallied for third to Matto Mondo in the Thunder Road on turf Feb. 7. Has talent, but tough to believe he is 100 percent ready for this.
* Tiago, Mike Smith, 118; has purse-nibbled in several major races, including the BC Classic last fall, and always needs a hot, contested pace. The ultimate deep closer in a race filled with them.
* Zambezi Sun, Victor Espinoza, 116; French invader now trained by Frankel did show pace-pressing tendencies in long races against Europe's best last year. The absolute mystery horse in the hands of a great horseman.
Given the modest pace scenario and overall current form, it seems reasonable to expect Cowboy Cal to take plenty of beating in this important spot. But, a large group of closers should be taking their runs at him late, which could set up interesting trifecta and superfecta possibilities.