03/10/2011 5:22PM

San Felipe gives Bench Points first shot going two turns in a stakes


ARCADIA, Calif. – He has yet to run around two turns, or in a graded stakes race. He also has yet to lose. It’s gut-check time on Saturday at Santa Anita for Bench Points, who puts his perfect record on the line when he meets such marquee 3-year-olds as Comma to the Top and Jaycito in a compelling edition of the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes.

Nine are entered in the San Felipe, which is a Round One race for the Preakness 5.5. If the winner of this race also captures the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 and the Preakness Stakes on May 21, a $5.5 million bonus goes to his connections.

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Bench Points has been brought along patiently and prudently, in part by design, in part by necessity. Because he was bred in California, trainer Tim Yakteen and the partnership that owns Bench Points took advantage of that status and raced him last year in restricted races against maidens at Hollywood Park and in two stakes at Del Mar.

But a knee chip sent Bench Points to the sidelines for five months, so when he returned last month, Yakteen opted for another sprint as a way to ease him into his 3-year-old campaign. The results were impressive. Bench Points, a gelding by Benchmark, rallied powerfully to beat the promising sprinter Da Ruler while earning the strongest Beyer Speed Figure of his career.

“I loved his comeback race,” Yakteen said on a warm, gorgeous morning on Thursday at Santa Anita while watching Bench Points train. “We were hoping we’d see a nice, strong finish, which we did.”

Now, all he has to do is go 1 1/16 miles and face some of the best Derby prospects on the West Coast. Bench Points could prove to be one of them.

“Pedigree-wise, and mentally, he should be able to handle two turns,” Yakteen said. “But until they do it, you don’t know. He’s done so well sprinting. Will he be able to stretch out? We’ll find out. This race is going to tell a lot of people where they are at.”

And how. Comma to the Top, who won five straight races to close out his 2-year-old campaign, is seeking to bounce back from a disappointing fourth-place finish in last month’s El Camino Real Derby in his 3-year-old debut. He also will be racing on dirt for the first time.

Jaycito is making his first start since he bolted on the first turn of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This will be his first start for Bob Baffert, who took over as Jaycito’s trainer last fall. Jaycito raced with blinkers in all four of his starts last year, but is removing them for the San Felipe.

The race also includes two horses – Albergatti and Runflatout – who are coming off fast maiden wins in sprints. Both are lightly raced, unproven around two turns, and making their stakes debuts.

Albergatti “is a big, tall horse who has a beautiful way of going,” said his trainer, Steve Asmussen, who has been eager to send Albergatti two turns.

“He got a 6 Ragozin figure first time out, and a month later got a 4. That speaks volumes in that he ran fast, and didn’t bounce, with not a lot of time between races,” Asmussen said. “He deserves this opportunity.”

Runflatout won his debut on Jan. 29. Garrett Gomez, who rode him that day, ended up on Albergatti, whom Gomez rode in his two starts. Joel Rosario takes over on Runflatout, who drew post 2, just outside of Albergatti.

“I’m glad to be outside of him. The race in general has a lot of speed,” said John Sadler, who trains Runflatout. “We’re short on seasoning, but long on ability.”

Of the others, Premier Pegasus was third and Surrey Star fourth in the San Vicente in their last starts, Jakesam was second in the El Camino Real Derby, and Awesome Patriot beat allowance runners.