02/04/2016 12:56PM

Hovdey: In the racing world it's just a superlative Saturday


My daughter asked her mother one of those questions you dread.

“What’s the Super Bowl?”

Then, later, she wanted to know:

“When does California Chrome run again?”

Clearly, my work here as a parent is done. Her priorities have been properly aligned, and all the rest of the answers – regarding boys, booze, choice of hybrid vehicles – will fall neatly into place.

She knows, for instance, that the first-class racing packed into two hours at Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park on Saturday will be far more entertaining than the butchering set for Sunday on a football field in San Francisco. Talk about cruelty to horses.

Since all the sports world is on Pacific time right now, here is how the Semi-Super Saturday at the races will play out:

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Santa Anita with the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. There is a growing suspicion that there’s more to Mor Spirit than has met the eye so far, and his punch at the end of the Los Alamitos Futurity was a professional piece of business. Still, Mor Spirit has a lot on his shoulders because at this point, the son of Eskendereya is the first-, second-, and third-best 3-year-old in the Bob Baffert barn.

The Lewis will be followed at 2:23 p.m. by the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap at nine furlongs. The Pizza Man has fled the Mardi Gras scene in New Orleans to invade sedate south Florida, where his welcoming committee will include the clockwork Canadian Lukes Alley, Walter Swinburn’s Legendary, and Shining Copper, who is on his own hook after spending the last half of 2015 as Big Blue Kitten’s rabbit.

After that, it is back to Santa Anita, where a hush will descend upon the assembled crowd as the champion Songbird takes the field in the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes. Starlet Stakes winner Street Fancy, who is at least in the same weight division, looks like the only opponent who could give Songbird a run.

The remainder of the Santa Anita afternoon features the $500,000 San Antonio Stakes on the main track at 3:30 p.m. and the $200,000 San Marcos Stakes on the grass at 4 o’clock.

Five of the 11 in the San Marcos were thumped by The Pizza Man in the Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar in late November. Of the others, no one will be surprised if Flamboyant runs right back to his win in the San Gabriel over the same course Jan. 2 for Paddy Gallagher and Brice Blanc.

The hefty San Antonio purse was earmarked to attract a horse like Dortmund, who stays in the barn, leaving the nine furlongs a toss-up between Imperative and Hoppertunity, second and third behind California Chrome in the recent San Pasqual. Those two always aim high and usually bring home a nice check, but in the past 12 months, they have run 16 times between them and won exactly zero races.

That is why the 2:53 race at Gulfstream will be getting most of the attention, when Keen Ice meets Mshawish, Valid, and the upwardly mobile Mexikoma in the $500,000 Donn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on a main track that by all accounts has been catering to the forwardly placed.

“If this race were anywhere other than Gulfstream, I would have absolute confidence,” said Jerry Crawford, managing partner of the Donegal syndicate that owns the stretch-running Keen Ice. “He’s never trained better. He’s coming into the race fresh, and even though he prefers a longer distance, he could still win on a fair surface.”

Crawford always has been high on Keen Ice, even before the colt’s upset of American Pharoah in the Travers last summer. His cellphone ringtone is the stretch call of the Travers, and sometimes, depending on who’s calling, Crawford just lets it play.

When reached Wednesday at his law office in Des Moines, Iowa, it was amazing that Crawford sounded like anything other than a blithering idiot. As Midwest chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, it had been barely 36 hours since Crawford wrapped up the Iowa presidential caucus ordeal on behalf of his candidate.

Crawford was under considerably more pressure to deliver than either Dale Romans or Javier Castellano will be with Keen Ice on Saturday. In 2008, with Crawford in the same role, Clinton finished third in Iowa to the first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. This time, she won in a photo with Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

“It’s hard to hold your breath for 24 hours, which is basically what we were all doing,” Crawford said, exaggerating only slightly.

“What comes next for us here depends on what happens in New Hampshire next Tuesday,” Crawford added, citing the upcoming primary. “I expect I’ll try and provide a little help around the edges in places like Colorado and Arizona.”

One thing is certain: Crawford hopes Clinton’s nomination is wrapped up long before the states of Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii hold Democratic caucuses on Saturday, March 26. On that day, he plans to be front and center at Meydan in Dubai with a boatload of Donegal partners to watch Keen Ice run in the $10 million World Cup.

“That’s been the plan since he ran in the Clark last fall – to run in the Donn, the Al Maktoum Challenge on March 5, and then the World Cup,” Crawford said. “Whatever he does on Saturday, he should be sitting on ready for Dubai.”