02/15/2013 4:39PM

Santa Anita: San Vicente a starting point for War Academy

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Benoit & Associates
Bob Baffert says "It's crunch time" for War Academy, who enters the San Vicente off a debut victory.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A seven-furlong sprint Sunday at Santa Anita marks the winter launch for a handful of Triple Crown candidates based in California, including the intriguing debut winner War Academy.

“If he is going to have any chance of making the Kentucky Derby, he needs to start this week,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “It’s time. It’s crunch time.”

War Academy is one of three Baffert runners in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, each starting for the first time this year. Shakin It Up is favored, lightly raced Belvin adds speed, and War Academy wants farther.

“Any of them can win,” Baffert said. “War Academy and Belvin, we don’t know how good they are.”

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

War Academy won his only start Nov. 9; Belvin won his second start Dec. 26. By comparison, Shakin It Up is seasoned veteran, with three starts.

Shakin It Up finished second in his debut in October, won a maiden race by daylight, then finished a troubled third Nov. 22 in the seven-furlong Prevue. That was three months ago at Betfair Hollywood Park. Shakin It Up has not raced since.

“He and War Academy are sort of in the same spot,” Baffert said, referring to the layoffs.

“Shakin It Up took a step backward, so I had to wait on him a little bit.”

War Academy also has been off three months. “He got really sick, so I lost time with him after he won,” Baffert said. “It just took a while to get him back. Now they are working really well, and I thought this was a good spot.”

Baffert has won the San Vicente seven times and this year has half the field. Belvin, Shakin It Up and War Academy drew posts 1-2-3, respectively, in the field of six.

Caballo Del Cielo is likely to set the pace while Mudflats also could show speed in his first start in California. Treasury Bill won a maiden sprint last out and will use the San Vicente as a bridge for a route, possibly at Oaklawn.

To win the San Vicente, they have to beat Shakin It Up, reunited with jockey David Flores after a tough-trip third in the Grade 3 Prevue. Baffert said Flores “fits the horse really well.”

“I think David gets along with that horse a little bit better,” he said.

Shakin It Up, sired by champion sprinter Midnight Lute, was best in the Prevue, missing by three-quarters of a length after being rated in last and blocked into the lane. Shakin It Up earned a 96 Beyer, tops in the San Vicente field.

War Academy is a $450,000 son of Giant’s Causeway who won his only start, which came in a sprint. While Baffert believes he will improve at longer distances, the possibility of a hot pace in the San Vicente flatters War Academy and jockey Martin Garcia.

Belvin is by Empire Maker and out of the dam Midway Squall, who has produced three sprint stakes winners – Apriority, Bahamian Squall, and Squall City. From the rail, Belvin and jockey Rafael Bejarano have few options.

“He’s fast, he is going to be up there,” Baffert said. “His (best asset) is his speed, and he drew the one hole.”

Mudflats also will be forwardly placed. If the race falls apart, Treasury Bill could be the opportunist for trainer Ron Ellis and jockey Joe Talamo.

Ellis waited until November to start the son of Lemon Drop Kid.

“I knew he was going to be a late-developing, long-distance horse,” Ellis said. “There was no need to run before November.”

Treasury Bill finished third Nov. 9 behind War Academy, then got sick. Treasury Bill won his comeback Jan. 27 in a maiden sprint, going away.

“It was a workout for him,” Ellis said.

If Treasury Bill runs well, Ellis will consider shipping him for his next start. He is owned by Gary and Mary West, whose Flashback is among the elite 3-year-olds in California.