Updated on 09/17/2011 10:06AM

San Felipe holds many challenges

Atswhatimtalknbout, Man Among Men, and Domestic Dispute (L-R) are the favorites in Sunday's San Felipe at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Bob Baffert has not lost his grip on the 3-year-old division. Not yet, anyway.

Baffert has won five graded stakes for 3-year-olds this winter, with four horses, but when Domestic Dispute tries to break open the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita, he faces more challenges than just rising stars Atswhatimtalknbout and Man Among Men.

Up to three inches of rain is expected before the $250,000, 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, adding an element of uncertainty to the meet's deepest, and possibly wettest, Derby prep. Beyond the three favorites, front-runner Siberland, sprint stakes winner Buddy Gil, and five others hope to prove themselves legitimate contenders for the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 and the Kentucky Derby on May 3. Each has something to prove, and will be on unfamiliar footing.

"We're all in the same boat," Baffert said. "Some will love it, some won't. It's going to be hard to get an ideal gauge [of ability] if it's muddy. [Domestic Dispute] has never trained well on an off track, but that's been when it's gooey. Wet-fast would be okay, but not gooey."

Baffert said he would scratch Santa Catalina winner Domestic Dispute if he was unhappy with the track condition. Baffert and owner Gary Garber can afford the luxury, because Domestic Dispute already has graded stakes earnings of $171,300, virtually assuring a berth in the Kentucky Derby, in which preference is determined by graded earnings. That leaves Atswhatimtalknbout and Man Among Men well behind. Atswhatimtalknbout, 2 for 3, has never raced in a graded stakes. Man Among Men has $12,000 in graded earnings.

"Obviously, earnings is a little bit of a concern," said Ron Ellis, who trains Atswhatimtalknbout. "I'm confident I could train him up to the Santa Anita Derby, but my biggest concern now is earnings." Ellis said he would "lean toward running on a wet track."

Earnings are moot, of course, if a horse is not good enough. The San Felipe will determine which horse is best at 1 1/16 miles. Advantage: Domestic Dispute. He has won 2 of 7, and each start has been better than the one before. "He's got the right kind of speed," Baffert said of the pace-pressing Domestic Dispute. "You can put him on the lead, off the pace, or take him back. You can put him anywhere you want."

Having won the Santa Catalina in January, Domestic Dispute will try to add to a Baffert 3-year-old stakes parade that this winter includes the San Vicente (Kafwain); San Rafael (Rojo Toro); and Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks (Composure).

Jerry Bailey rides Domestic Dispute, and David Flores stays with Atswhatimtalknbout. A long-striding son of A.P. Indy, Atswhatimtalknbout has improved each start and gets a favorable pace scenario Sunday. "It looks like there's quite a bit of speed, so that really fits us," Ellis said. "And it's up in the air how good the others are. I'd love to win the race without killing him."

The colt will race Sunday for owner B. Wayne Hughes and new owner Biscuit Stables, LLC, a group that includes movie director Steven Spielberg. Biscuit Stables purchased a 10 percent interest in the colt since his last race. Although Atswhatimtalknbout has raced just three times, he has emerged as one of the best looking and most talked about colts on the circuit. His even-paced running style suggests 1 1/4 miles is up his alley. But 1 1/16 miles against Grade 2 foes might be too short.

Man Among Men, trained by Gary Mandella, zoomed into the Derby picture with a strong win in the Sham Stakes. Although Man Among Men raced three wide in his first dirt route, he was inside and behind runners early. His reaction gives jockey Alex Solis more confidence going into the San Felipe.

"He got a lot of sand in his face the first part and he got a little rank, but good horses run through it, and he did," Solis said. Man Among Men has won 3 of 5, including victories over Peace Rules, the Louisiana Derby winner, and Empire Maker, who was scheduled to run in the Florida Derby on Saturday.

Turf Paradise Derby runner-up Siberland insures an honest pace. Buddy Gil stretches out and has trained well since winning the Grade 3 Baldwin. Trainer Jeff Mullins said Buddy Gil's form improvement was only coincidental to his switch to turf in his last start. "I've always thought he can go long; he's a better horse now," Mullins said.

Five longshots entered the San Felipe: Buckland Manor, Flirt With Fortune, Logician, and Ten Cents a Shine.

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