01/12/2012 2:19PM

Santa Anita: No travel necessary for Prayer for Relief in San Fernando

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Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.
Prayer for Relief, winning the Super Derby, will make his first start at his home track in Saturday's San Fernando.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Though he is based in Southern California, Prayer for Relief was a road warrior in 2011, traveling to Iowa, West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, which resulted in victories in three derbies, and a whole mess of frequent-flyer points. He is back home now, and will launch his 2012 campaign on Saturday in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes, which will mark his first start at the track where he regularly trains, Santa Anita.

“I might have to put him in a van to Hollywood Park that day and bring him back,” his trainer, Bob Baffert, joked on Thursday morning at Santa Anita.

But while Prayer for Relief might have the best r é sum é of the eight 4-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando, Baffert cautions that he is looking for bigger game down the line. That, and Baffert’s apprehension over how Prayer for Relief will run at Santa Anita, might make Prayer for Relief vulnerable, especially considering that Tapizar looks capable of getting an uncontested early lead.

“We’re just getting started. It’s too early in the year to super-crank on him,” Baffert said. “I think he’s going to be better going a mile and an eighth, or a mile and a quarter, especially the way this track’s been playing.”

Prayer for Relief won 4 times in 6 starts last year, with consecutive victories in the Iowa Derby, West Virginia Derby, and Super Derby. He was third in the Oklahoma Derby, but ran poorly in his final start of the year, when matched against older horses in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, in which he finished ninth of 13.

“I don’t know what happened in that race,” Baffert said. “He was there, and then he wasn’t there.”

Tapizar, who starts from the outside post, has the speed to get the lead. He scored a front-running victory over this track last year in the Sham Stakes, and used similar tactics to win a strong optional-claimer at Belmont Park last fall. This is his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, in which he stalked a hot pace before splitting the field, finishing fifth of nine.

Irish Art looms a tempting proposition, even though the San Fernando is his first start on dirt following seven grass races. Irish Art, a son of Artie Schiller, has turned in a strong series of workouts over this surface, and comes off an excellent runner-up effort behind Mr. Commons on the Sir Beaufort Stakes on opening day, Dec. 26.

Carla Gaines, who trains Irish Art, said she and owner Warren Williamson chose the San Fernando, as opposed to Monday’s San Gabriel against older horses on turf, because Saturday’s race “is for straight 4-year-olds, it’s a short field, and we want to try him on the dirt to see if there’s another dimension or not.”

“He trains very well on the dirt,” Gaines said.

Balladry is making his stakes debut following a pair of wins against softer. He will be ridden for the first time by Joe Talamo, who got the mount when Garrett Gomez was injured last weekend.

Riveting Reason, second in the Robert Lewis last year, has run three poor races since returning from an eight-month layoff.

Spud Spivens was third against older California-breds in the On Trust at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18.

First Strike won the Zia Park Derby on Dec. 3 in his first start since being claimed for $40,000 by trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Dreaminofthewin was 10th of 12 at 41-1 in the Oklahoma Derby, in which Prayer for Relief was third.

San Fernando Stakes (G2), Post Time: 4:07 PT Saturday

Purse: $150,000; 1 1/16 mile

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

Prayer for Relief

B. Baffert

R. Bejarano

 

1

Balladry

E. Harty

J. Talamo

 

1

Riveting Reason

M. Cho

A. Quinonez

 

1

Dreaminofthewin

B. Jackson

M. Garcia

 

1

Irish Art

C. Gaines

J. Rosario

 

1

Spud Spivens

H. Moreno

M. Smith

 

1

First Strike

R. Diodoro

V. Espinoza

 

1

Tapizar

S. Asmussen

C. Nakatani