03/05/2014 4:26PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Blingo must step it up

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Benoit & Associates
Blingo won the Grade 2 San Antonio last month, but will have to run even better if he is to win the Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Blingo gave jockey Aaron Gryder a glowing first impression when he rode the 5-year-old gelding to a hard-fought win the $300,500 San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 8.

Gryder rode Blingo for the first time in the Grade 2 San Antonio, closing from fifth to finish a half-length in front of the longshot Imperative. The victory has led to a start in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap for Blingo.

The Big Cap will be Blingo’s first race at 1 1/4 miles, but Gryder said he doesn’t think the distance will be an issue.

[Santa Anita Handicap: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

A bigger problem is the competition. The Big Cap is led by Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, the first two finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Classic here last November, and Game On Dude, who won the 2011 and 2013 Santa Anita handicaps.

On Wednesday, Will Take Charge drew the rail in a field of eight, one position to the inside of Mucho Macho Man. The rest of the field, in post order, is Blingo, Imperative, Rousing Sermon, American Blend, Game On Dude, and Hear the Ghost.

Wednesday morning on the backstretch, Gryder was asked how Blingo will fare in his first start against Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge. Gryder said he’s concerned more about how his own horse will run.

“I can’t concern myself with it in that I want him to get him into his stride and run his race,” he said.

Blingo races for Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs. By Artie Schiller, Blingo has won 4 of 11 starts and earned $364,408. The San Antonio was his third stakes win, and first in a graded stakes.

In the Big Cap, Blingo will be a closer. Gryder expects Game On Dude to be a pace factor, closely followed by Gary Stevens on Mucho Macho Man and Luis Saez on Will Take Charge. Game On Dude was fifth in the San Antonio Stakes, setting a quick pace before fading from contention in the stretch.

“I think Game On Dude deserves a lot of respect and will get a lot of respect from Stevens and Saez,” Gryder said. “They’re going to be trying to run him down.”

Gryder, 43, will be trying to run all of them down in the stretch on Blingo.

Mucho Macho Man will carry high weight of 124 pounds, one more than Will Take Charge. Other weight assignments are Game On Dude, at 122; Blingo, at 117; and American Blend, Hear the Ghost, Imperative, and Rousing Sermon all at 114.

Hear the Ghost, who won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes in March 2013, was third in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes on Jan. 18 and third as the 7-10 favorite in an optional claimer Feb. 1.

Since that race, Hear the Ghost was found to have stomach ulcers, and that has left trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s team a bit worried.

“Sometimes, those can bother him enough so he doesn’t run his race,” said Dan Ward, Hollendorfer’s assistant.

Ted Aroney co-owns Hear the Ghost, who has won 2 of 7 starts and earned $294,000.