Updated on 09/17/2011 9:55PM

Saint Liam takes on best in West

Saint Liam dominated the Donn (above), leaving trainer Richard Dutrow, "really confident" about the Big Cap. Richard Mandella will send out Rock Hard Ten and Congrats.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Over the last four months, Saint Liam's status in the national handicap division has soared, with major stakes victories at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park.

Saturday, goes for his third consecutive major stakes win in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, his first start in California.

Saint's Liam's presence at Santa Anita has engendered respect from rival trainers, who watched with awe his convincing win in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 5.

"If Saint Liam were to repeat that, we're all in trouble," said Doug O'Neill, who will start the longshot Supah Blitz.

Awaiting Saint Liam in the Santa Anita Handicap are a local team led by Rock Hard Ten, the top 4-year-old in California, and the 5-year-olds and Congrats, all stakes winners at this meeting.

is the leading contender among the California-based runners. Trained by Richard Mandella, who also starts Congrats, Rock Hard Ten has won two stakes at the meeting: the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs Dec. 26 and the Grade 2 Strub Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 5.

Rock Hard Ten beat Imperialism by a nose in the Strub, and won the Malibu by a half-length.

Mandella said he hopes Rock Hard Ten can win the Big Cap by more, "but we'd be satisfied with a close one."

Saint Liam will be favored and carries top weight of 122 pounds. Trained by Richard Dutrow Jr. for William and Susan Warren, Saint Liam has won two straight, the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November and the Donn Handicap over 1 1/8 miles.

In the Donn, he led throughout and pulled away to win by 3 3/4 lengths, easily defeating Roses in May.

"I've been waiting for him to run a race like that," Dutrow said.

The Big Cap will be Saint Liam's first start over 1 1/4 miles, which does not concern Dutrow.

"I'm not really that concerned about the distance going in," he said. "Our horse is doing really good. I'll be really confident."

That scares trainer Bobby Frankel, who starts Lundy's Liability.

Frankel has said repeatedly in recent weeks that California's wet winter has disrupted his preparation of Lundy's Liability. At one point in late February, Frankel considered passing the Big Cap.

Lundy's Liability won his lone start this year, the San Antonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 6, rallying from fourth to score by 1 1/2 lengths.

"He's a good horse," Frankel said. "It's a shame I couldn't have him like I want."

Frankel thinks Saint Liam will be tough to beat, and doesn't think the distance of the Big Cap will stop him.

"If he can get a mile and an eighth strong, in my eyes he can't lose," Frankel said.

Lundy's Liability, Imperialism, and Rock Hard Ten could threaten Saint Liam if the favorite is pressured early. Truly a Judge, the winner of the Grade 3 San Gabriel Handicap on Jan. 1, will be on the lead early as will Grand Reward, a longshot trained by D. Wayne Lukas,

Imperialism used a late kick to finish second to Rock Hard Ten in the Strub Stakes. At one point, trainer Kristin Mulhall thought would go past Rock Hard Ten but the two fought the final sixteenth, separated at the finish by a nose.

"Midway through the stretch, I thought he'd win," Mulhall said. "At the wire, I thought we got beat. I think it was the bob that got him."

Third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby over 1 1/4 miles, Imperialism is winless in his last eight starts.

"The distance will help him," Mulhall said. "He'll drop way back, and I guarantee he'll be flying."

The presence of an early threat to Saint Liam gives Mandella hope. Congrats, who won the San Pasqual in January, will haunt the front-runners throughout.

"I think he has a chance," Mandella said. "He can stalk those horses. It looks like the race will have a little of everything in it, which makes for an interesting race."

The field

Santa Anita Handicap
Purse: $1 million; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1Lundy's LiabilityP. Valenzuela1206-1
2BorregoG. Gomez11320-1
3CongratsT. Baze11512-1
4Truly a JudgeM. Pedroza11715-1
5Island FashionK. John11312-1
6CalifornianM. Linares11030-1
7Grand RewardR. Bejarano11230-1
8ImperialismA. Solis1179-2
9Supah BlitzV. Espinoza11520-1
10Rock Hard TenG. Stevens1195-2
11Saint LiamE. Prado1229-5

* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, HRTV