03/10/2016 2:16PM

Effinex clear class of Santa Anita Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Effinex has found a soft spot for a $1 million purse in Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif. – As spring nears in California, locally based horses ship out for big purses in places like Dubai and Florida. And every so often, an East Coast stable looks west and finds a $1 million race that is ripe for capture.

Effinex, welcome to California.

The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap will be run at 1 1/4 miles Saturday; East Coast shipper Effinex stands out over locals Imperative and Donworth. The field could have been deeper, but California Chrome and Hoppertunity are aiming for the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Effinex also was considered for Dubai, but only briefly, according to trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

“Santa Anita was a lot more realistic than Dubai,” Jerkens said. “His PPs going a mile and a quarter are pretty good.”

What he does not have is current form. Effinex, the 2-1 Big Cap favorite, has not started since Nov. 27, when he won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Over the past 20 years, no horse has won the Big Cap in his first start of the year. This is the right year to try.

The 2016 field has nine entrants and no stars. Imperative has finished second in three straight graded stakes but was off the board in his last six Grade 1 races. He is the 3-1 co-second choice with Donworth, whose top effort was a recent third-place comeback in a Grade 2.

 

While the quality of the Big Cap is debatable, the Saturday undercard is stacked – three graded stakes, a $100,000 non-graded turf stakes, and salty maiden races.

Race 6 is the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf; Bal a Bali will try to regain top form against Bolo, Midnight Storm, and Om.

Race 7 is the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles; Mor Spirit is favored over the front-runner Danzing Candy and Exaggerator. The Kentucky Derby prep races are getting stronger.

“The races leading up to this are exciting, but these last two tell you if you belong,” said Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux. The San Felipe leads to the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Neither race will include locally based champion Nyquist. He runs in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, trying for a $1 million bonus.

Race 9 Saturday is the Grade 2 San Carlos at seven furlongs; 2015 winner Wild Dude takes on Calculator and Kobe’s Back.

Race 11 is the $100,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on turf. Pacific Heat enters as the most probable winner on the card.

Race 10, the Big Cap, is topped by Effinex. After him, it is wide open. No knock on Imperative and Donworth, but as trainer John Sadler noted, “If those are the toughest ones, I have to be in there.”

Sadler entered longshots Hard Aces and Class Leader. The others in the field are the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Cyrus Alexander and Point Piper, East Coast shipper General a Rod, and second-level allowance winner Melatonin.


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First post Saturday is noon Pacific. Rain was forecast for Friday; sunny skies are expected Saturday.

KEY CONTENDERS

Effinex, by Mineshaft

Last 3 Beyers: 104-112-92

◗ Since arriving from Florida on March 3 with assistant Kent Sweezy, Effinex has looked great physically. He posted a fast half-mile workout Tuesday under jockey Mike Smith, who won the last three Big Caps with Shared Belief in 2015 and Game On Dude in 2013-14.

◗ Jerkens is confident that Effinex will fire despite the layoff of more than three months. “He’s a little different horse,” Jerkens said. “He doesn’t ‘belly down’ and get heavy. And the track being glib and fast will help.”

◗ Effinex has won seven races and more than $2.1 million from 20 starts. His five starts at a 1 1/4 miles produced two wins, a second, and a third.

Imperative, by Bernardini

Last 3 Beyers: 105-102-97

◗ The runner-up by a nose in the Grade 2 San Antonio last out after being stalled in traffic at the quarter pole, Imperative is in career-best form for trainer Richard Baltas. Santiago Gonzalez is his rider.

◗ This is the third Big Cap for Imperative. He finished eighth at 22-1 in 2015 and seventh at 35-1 in 2014.

Donworth, by Tiznow

Last 3 Beyers: 104-95-93

◗ A potential pacesetter, Donworth finished third in the San Antonio. It was his first start in more than seven months after being purchased from a dispersal sale by owner Paul Reddam for $550,000.

◗ Donworth is trained by Doug O’Neill and will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez. “I think the plan is to break and get a good position,” O’Neill said. “It doesn’t look like there will be a ton of speed. We’ll be forwardly placed.”

Cyrus Alexander, by Medaglia d’Oro

Last 3 Beyers: 97-98-90

◗ Off the board in two previous stakes, he is a candidate to hit the board this time. “He couldn’t be training any better,” assistant Dan Ward said. “He needs a clean trip and to get to the outside.”

◗ Martin Garcia rides.

Hard Aces, by Hard Spun

Last 3 Beyers: 98-95-104

◗ Since an upset win last June in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, he has finished off the board in five starts. “He needs a fast pace,” Sadler said.

◗ Abel Lezcano rides.

– additional reportingby Steve Andersen