03/04/2014 1:19PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Much-improved Imperative among seven probable starters

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Benoit & Associates
Imperative (right) second to Blingo in the San Antonio Stakes last time out, was claimed for $50,000 in December.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday will have a smaller field than expected, with the early week defections of the speedy Appealing Tale and the longshot Majestic Harbor.

Led by Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, the first two finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last November, the race has a projected field of seven. One is a former claimer who has overachieved in the last 60 days.

Imperative was claimed for $50,000 by owner KM Racing and trainer George Papaprodromou at Hollywood Park on Dec. 21, the second-to-last day of racing in that track’s history. A start in the Big Cap became realistic after the 4-year-old Imperative finished a hard-fought second by a half-length to Blingo in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 8.

“We didn’t think we’d get to the Big Cap,” Papaprodromou said with a smile earlier this week. “He’s improved tremendously in the last two races. We took a shot in the San Antonio and he ran a big race. We’ll take a shot at the Big Cap.”

Imperative began his career with Darley Stable and trainer Eoin Harty, winning as a 2-year-old and in an optional claimer last March. Imperative was dropped into claiming races last May, and started in his fifth claiming race when he was taken in December.

In the San Antonio, Imperative led on the turn and was within a head of Blingo at the eighth pole before giving way late. Kent Desormeaux rode Imperative in the San Antonio and retains the mount on Saturday.

“We have a jockey who rode the horse in the San Antonio,” Papaprodromou said. “He knows the horse. He knows what to do. Mucho Macho Man is the horse to beat and Will Take Charge ran great in the Breeders’ Cup. I hope Imperative can run a big race.”

Imperative is likely to be near the front, stalking expected leader Game On Dude, who won the Big Cap in 2011 and 2013. Game On Dude was fifth in the San Antonio Stakes as the 1-5 favorite after engaging Blueskiesnrainbows in a speed duel.

Appealing Tale, the winner of optional claimers over a mile on Jan. 4 and Feb. 1, was considered a Big Cap candidate in late February, but trainer Peter Miller said he has changed his mind. Appealing Tale could instead run in Saturday’s $350,000 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf.

“I don’t think he wants a mile and a quarter,” Miller said on Monday. “I think he wants a mile to a mile and an eighth.”

Majestic Harbor was second in the San Pasqual Stakes in January and fourth in the San Antonio. Trainer Sean McCarthy said on Monday that races at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park will be considered for the 6-year-old Majestic Harbor.

Game On Dude, Imperative, Mucho Macho Man, and Will Take Charge are joined on the list of candidates by American Blend, Blingo, and Rousing Sermon.