12/22/2011 5:57PM

Santa Anita: Baffert, Asmussen heavy on 3-year-old talent

Coady Photography
Delta Jackpot winner Sabercat is just one of trainer Steve Asmussen's 3-year-old prospects for 2012.

ARCADIA, Calif. – If there is strength in numbers, then trainers Steve Asmussen and Bob Baffert have been hitting the weight room when it comes to 3-year-old males for 2012 at Santa Anita. They have top-line stars and plenty of depth, so they figure to be prominent players in the division’s major stakes, right through the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

Asmussen’s most accomplished prospect here is Sabercat, who won the Delta Jackpot last month. But he has several promising prospects in Hierro, Unbridled’s Note, and Wharton, all of whom are at Santa Anita after winning maiden races during the fall meet at Churchill Downs.

Baffert’s contenders are led by Liaison, who won the CashCall Futurity earlier this month at Hollywood Park. But Baffert also has Sky Kingdom, who was fourth in the CashCall Futurity; Macho Rocket, a recent maiden winner; and the unbeaten Secret Circle, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

Secret Circle probably will not race again until the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 19, though Baffert could opt for something sooner, going longer. So Brilliant, the winner of the Hollywood Prevue last month, is out with a minor injury.

“I had to stop on him,” Baffert said.

Baffert also is loaded with unstarted maidens. Two of them – Bernster, a son of Storm Cat, and the Rahy colt Lasso − are scheduled to make their debuts opening day Monday in the third race, going six furlongs. Rafael Bejarano rides Bernster, with Martin Garcia on Lasso. They worked six furlongs together out of the gate Dec. 17 and received identical times of 1:11.60, the best among 35 at the distance that day.

“I thought Lasso was really good, but they were equal in that work,” said Gary Young, a widely respected local private clocker. “Bejarano was on Bernster, and he had a huge smile on his face after that work. It’s Baffert’s world right now.”

Asmussen does not have anything in that maiden race, but he is already moving the chess pieces into line for the upcoming stakes. First up will be Hierro, on Jan. 7 in the Grade 3 Sham, a stake that also might attract Peter Miller-trained Majestic City.

Sabercat will not run until later in the meet, in large part because he already has enough graded stakes earnings to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

“He’s run three excellent two-turn races,” Asmussen said. “He’s always been an old soul anyway. He’s easy to be around.”

The first stakes race of the meet for this group, albeit one restricted to California-breds, is the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes on opening day, featuring stakes winners Stoney Fleece and Passing Game.

Other leading prospects for the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby who are scheduled to run this meet include Creative Cause, the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; Tenacious Thomas and Out of Bounds, impressive maiden winners at Hollywood Park; and Rousing Sermon and Brother Francis, the second- and third-place finishers in the Cash Call Futurity.

Rousing Sermon and Brother Francis are pointing to the Grade 2 Robert Lewis on Feb. 4. The final major prep for the Santa Anita Derby is the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10.

Among fillies, the most notable figured to be My Miss Aurelia, who completed an unbeaten campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and is a cinch to win that division’s Eclipse Award. But she came out of that race with a minor shin injury, and Asmussen said, “She will be 100 percent before we take the next step.”

“With a horse of her quality, I don’t think there’s a small window as to when you need to have her ready,” Asmussen said. “She is brilliant.”

That leaves Killer Graces and Charm the Maker, the one-two finishers in the Hollywood Starlet, atop the local division going into the meet. Their major goals are the Las Virgenes on March 3 and the Santa Anita Oaks on March 31, both Grade 1 races. Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita’s vice president of racing, moved those races to later in the meet this year to provide a more sensible timetable to the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Killer Graces, also has high hopes for Milania, a daughter of Bernardini out of Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill who figures to improve with more distance. Hollendorfer has won the Kentucky Oaks three times.

Baffert has Candrea ready for a comeback in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez on Jan. 15. He remains high on Eden’s Moon, who was second in her recent debut to the wickedly fast Miller trainee Reneesgotzip. He also has a promising newcomer in Princess Arabella, a daughter of Any Given Saturday who Baffert said “wants to go long.”

John Sadler has Rowdy Gal pointing for the Santa Ynez. Later this meet, Sister Moon should return for Sadler after getting some time off after being upset by Ismene in the Anoakia Stakes during the fall meet here.

Ismene takes on debut winners Belloma and Tangerine Tickle on Monday in the filly division of the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, the meet’s first race.

Others to watch this meet include June Cleaver and Sage d’Oro, recent maiden winners at Hollywood Park, and Quality Jade, a daughter of Johannesburg who has impressed Young as she prepares for her debut for trainer Janet Armstrong.

“She’s pretty close to running,” Armstrong said. “I’ve broken her out of the gate twice, and she was a little slow coming out of there, so I want to pop her out of the gate one more time.”