01/15/2010 12:00AM

Conveyance gets first major challenge


ARCADIA, Calif. - After a pair of sprint preps against lesser company, Conveyance gets to stretch out around two turns and race in a stakes for the first time when he heads a field of five 3-year-olds on Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 San Rafael Stakes, the first graded stakes of the Santa Anita season for Kentucky Derby prospects.

Conveyance is the least experienced horse in the race; his rivals have made anywhere from four to nine starts. He last raced on Nov. 25; every one of his rivals has raced since then. Yet he has displayed so much talent in his two races, and has trained so sharply in the interim, that he is expected to be a heavy favorite to take a successful step and add to the bountiful crop of Derby prospects in the barn of trainer Bob Baffert.

"He looks a lot like Holy Bull," Baffert said Thursday morning of Conveyance, a gray colt who is by Indian Charlie and out of a Holy Bull mare. "He's not a heavy horse. He's got a lot of athleticism. He's a high-cruising-speed kind of horse."

That speed gives Conveyance a decided pace advantage in the San Rafael. He has led from virtually gate to wire in both his starts, both sprints, and figures to easily make the front unless someone else gets silly.

Conveyance won over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface going six furlongs in his debut on Oct. 31, then crushed allowance runners by seven lengths at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25. Garrett Gomez, who has ridden Conveyance in both starts, is back aboard.

"We're going to find out if he can handle two turns, but I haven't seen any indication that he wouldn't," Baffert said. "He's got a fluid stride. He gets over the track well. He's a nice horse. He's always shown us that he's very talented."

Via Verde figures to get a first-over trip on Conveyance. He starts from the outside post, and has enough natural speed to lay close. He is removing blinkers for this race.

Via Verde has raced on turf in his last two starts, but was a sharp second in main-track sprints at Del Mar and Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting in his first two races. He owns 1 win in 4 starts, but seems haunted by Baffert. In all three of his losses, the winner was a Baffert runner.

John Sadler, who trains Via Verde, might have his best chance with Domonation. He also is trying two turns for the first time. Like his stablemate, he has won once in four starts. Two of those three losses came against Baffert runners.