02/28/2012 4:17PM

Santa Anita Handicap could get 13 starters

Shigeki Kikkawa
Victory Pete ran third to Game On Dude in the San Antonio.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Regardless of whether defending champion Game On Dude starts in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, the race will have a big field.

As of Tuesday, there were as many as 13 probable starters, but no firm decision had been made on whether Game On Dude will run. Co-owner Bernie Schiappa said on Tuesday that trainer Bob Baffert had yet to choose whether to run Game On Dude or wait for the $10 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East on March 31. A decision was expected before Wednesday’s entry date.

“We haven’t finalized [our plans] yet, that’s for sure,” Schiappa said. “Bob is the guy calling the shots.”

Baffert will be after his third consecutive Big Cap win, if he starts Game On Dude or the 4-year-old Prayer for Relief, a three-time graded stakes winner last year. He won the 2010 running with Misremembered.

Saturday’s potential field of 13 includes Victory Pete, who was third to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 5. Trained by Alexis Barba for Peter and Ellen Johnson, Victory Pete worked a half-mile in 47 seconds at Hollywood Park on Tuesday, the fastest of 24 workouts.

Barba suspects that Victory Pete, who has yet to win a stakes in 24 starts, regressed in the San Antonio Stakes, four weeks after returning from a four-month layoff to finish second in the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes for turf sprinters.

Victory Pete was beaten 17 1/2 lengths by Game On Dude in the San Antonio Stakes over 1 1/8 miles. The Big Cap is run over 1 1/4 miles.

“I know he can get a mile and an eighth better than that,” Barba said. “He ran such a big race in the Daytona. After a four-month layoff, I think he bounced. I think that’s what really happened. Otherwise, it’s a big jump. I understand that.”

Victory Pete will be ridden by jockey Martin Garcia, Barba said. Victory Pete has been assigned 114 pounds, nine fewer than Game on Dude, the topweight.

Other probable starters for the Big Cap are Ultimate Eagle, at 120 pounds; Prayer for Relief and Uh Oh Bango, at 117; Gladding, Ron the Greek and Setsuko, at 116; Holladay Road, Thirtyfirststreet and Twice the Appeal, at 114; Boxeur Des Rues, at 112; and Fiddlers Afleet, at 110.

Thirtyfirststreet will be a longshot and the first Thoroughbred mount in a Grade 1 race for 18-year-old apprentice jockey Eswan Flores. A 4-year-old colt who has won two stakes, Thirtyfirststreet was fourth in the Crystal Water Stakes for California-breds behind Holladay Road on Jan. 28.

Flores won the first stakes of his career on Sunday when the longshot Tones won the Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds on the hillside turf course. Currently third in the jockey’s standings, Flores described gaining a mount in the Big Cap as “a dream come true. I can’t explain how happy I am to have a chance to ride the horse.”

Next uncertain for Creative Cause

Creative Cause, third in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes in his 3-year-old debut on Feb. 19, worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 at Hollywood Park on Tuesday.

Trainer Mike Harrington said later that morning he is uncertain whether Creative Cause will make his next start in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on March 10 or the $500,000 Rebel Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park on March 17.

“He worked alone,” Harrington said of Creative Cause. “He’s not usually a good work horse alone. I was pleased with the way he worked.”

Bob Baffert plans to have two runners in the San Felipe – Liaison, the winner of the CashCall Futurity in December, and Fed Biz, an allowance race winner on Feb. 9. Liaison unseated jockey Rafael Bejarano after clipping heels with a rival in the stretch of the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4.

Sabercat, the winner of the Delta Jackpot Stakes in November, is a candidate for the Rebel, or possibly the San Felipe, trainer Steve Asmussen said.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman