03/09/2017 3:10PM

Midnight Storm has long way to go in Santa Anita Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shaman Ghost goes into the Santa Anita Handicap off a second to Arrogate in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Big Cap Day is second-chance Saturday for millionaire Grade 1 winners Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost, along with a host of stakes runners with reputations on the line in three other graded stakes at Santa Anita.

Midnight Storm enters the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap with a pace advantage that was missing in his previous try at the 1 1/4-mile distance, which came in the 2015 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. On Saturday, he is lone speed. A mile and a quarter is a long way.

“It definitely is something new,” trainer Phil D’Amato said. “But this horse, every time you challenge him, he keeps finding more gears. How he trains and how he gallops out … he just acts like a horse that can go that far. But until they do it, you never know.”

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Midnight Storm, the likely Big Cap favorite, will enter in career-best form, having won six of his last seven starts. If he stays the distance, the lone front-runner could be gone.

East Coast shipper Shaman Ghost has earned more than $3 million, and it will be a small victory if he makes the gate for the Santa Anita Handicap. Last fall, he shipped to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, went off his feed, fell apart while schooling, and was scratched on race day.

Shaman Ghost recovered from the illness, has run well twice since, and returned to Santa Anita early this week. He is a contender in top form. He finished second to Arrogate last out in the Pegasus World Cup and has thrived since.

“He bounced out of his last race a little fresher than he usually does,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “He’s keeping his flesh, his energy is good.”

Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost face seven others of less notoriety in the Big Cap, race 10 on an 11-race card that also offers new chances for other stakes runners.

Mastery, undefeated last year as a 2-year-old, starts over in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, race 5. The 1 1/16-mile race is the first start of his 3-year-old campaign. His rivals in the Santa Anita Derby prep include Gormley and Iliad.

Masochistic, the runner-up as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and in the news afterward for the wrong reasons, is lone speed in the Grade 1 Triple Bend, race 8. The seven-furlong sprint is his first start since he was disqualified from the BC Sprint purse money for a steroid violation.

Conquest Enforcer, third as the favorite in the Arcadia Stakes last out, has recovered from a foot issue and seeks redemption as one of several contenders in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, race 9. The turf race includes Bolo, Dortmund, Ring Weekend, Bal a Bali, What a View, and longshot closer Flamboyant.

The absence of Santa Anita-based Arrogate and Hoppertunity – both are headed to Dubai – means the 2017 Big Cap field is not quite the best in the West. But it is the best of what’s left, with seven others in the nine-horse field looking to upset Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost.

The field includes Imperative, a graded stakes winner who has earned more than $2.2 million; Isotherm, a Grade 2 winner on turf; Hard Aces, a veteran closer who won the Grade 1 Gold Cup in 2015; and upset candidate Follow Me Crev. Outsiders are Gangster, Twentytwentyvision, and Hi Happy.

KEY CONTENDERS

Midnight Storm, by Pioneerof the Nile

Last 3 Beyers: 101-106-105

◗ The strategy being employed by D’Amato and jockey Rafael Bejarano is no secret. “I think we’ll be sitting first or second,” D’Amato said before the sprinter Cautious Giant was pulled from the race. Midnight Storm, who breaks from the rail, is expected to set the pace.

◗ Midnight Storm, a Grade 1 winner on turf, has been working super since his most recent start, a front-running win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual at 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track.

◗ Midnight Storm has won 10 races and $1,461,110 from 21 starts.

◗ When he finished last in the 2015 Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles, he was compromised by a pace duel with Bayern.

Shaman Ghost, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 112-102-106

◗ Jerkens is due for some luck in California. Prior to scratching Shaman Ghost from the BC Classic last fall, he shipped Effinex to California for the 2016 Big Cap. Effinex came down with a case of hives and finished third as the favorite.

◗ Shaman Ghost is a closer who actually breaks well from the gate. Jerkens considers that a plus. “For a horse that doesn’t have a whole lot of early speed and is kind of a come-from-behind horse, he comes out of the gate running,” he said. “I like that, and I think the jocks like it.”

◗ The leading money earner in the field, Shaman Ghost won the 2015 Queen’s Plate, the Grade 1 Woodward in 2016, and has won six races and $3,089,311 from 14 starts. Javier Castellano rides.

Imperative, by Bernardini

Last 3 Beyers: 103-86-103

◗ He won the $400,000 Poseidon Handicap last out at Gulfstream Park and is using the Big Cap as a bridge to the Grade 2, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic on April 22.

◗ Bob Hess trains Imperative, whose jockey, Antonio Gallardo, will be riding at Santa Anita for the first time.

Follow Me Crev, by Quality Road

Last 3 Beyers: 96-84-94

◗ A deep-closing allowance horse, Follow Me Crev is a massive, good-feeling gelding who will be rolling from the back under Kent Desormeaux.