Trainer Bobby Frankel sends out Strub Stakes (gr. II) winner High Limit as the 5-2 morning line favorite for Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
The 4-year-old High Limit, who has come into his own this season after a difficult sophomore campaign, was assigned the co-top weight of 120 pounds in the 1 1/4-mile Big 'Cap. The grade I victor Lava Man, most recently a 2 1/2-length winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic, also carries 120 in the nine-horse field.
The Santa Anita is the 10th race on the program and goes at approximately 4:30 p.m. (PT; 1:30 p.m. ET). By that time, the 64-year-old Frankel could be a bit leg weary because the Hall of Fame trainer has what is believed to be a record 14 horses entered, including at least one in 10 of the races. He has at least one horse entered in every race but the first.
High Limit was 20th in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), 44 1/2 lengths behind Big 'Cap rival Giacomo.
"He's a bigger, stronger horse now," noted Frankel. "Last year was a rush job. That's how the Derby ruins you. We're lucky we got out of that in one piece with this horse."
High Limit's emergence as a 4-year-old star has lifted his earnings to $862,500 from 5 wins in 11 starts.
"I entered 16," Frankel said of his long Santa Anita Handicap day, "but two didn't get in. It was just circumstances, but obviously this is the most I've ever run in one day."
Said Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle, who's been in the business 20 years, "That's the most I've ever seen by one trainer anywhere (in one day)."
Frankel will enlist the support of long-time assistants Humberto Ascanio and Sally Lundy in saddling his bountiful band.
Meanwhile, Frankel was "very happy" with High Limit drawing post position No. 5. Patrick Valenzuela, 2-for-2 aboard the colt, rides.
High Limit, a son of Maria's Mon
owned by Gary and Mary West Stables, also won the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) in January. He seeks to become a three-time stakes winner this meet and could give Frankel his third victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. He won back-to-back in 2002 and 2003 with Milwaukee Brew for owner/breeder Frank Stronach.
Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Lava Man looked like his old self in the Sunshine Millions after closing out 2005 in disappointing fashion for trainer Doug O'Neill. Lava Man starts just outside of High Limit in post 6 with Corey Nakatani aboard once again.
"I think we're lucky because we have a horse that has tactical speed," said O'Neill, who credited shoer Jimmy Jimenez with helping the sore-footed Lava Man get ready for the Big 'Cap. "Without him, we definitely would not be running him."
The former claimer had returned from ill-fated trips to New York and Japan after scoring three wins last year, including a record 8 ¾-length victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. The 5-year-old gelding, claimed for $50,000 by O'Neill for STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood in 2004, earned $774,103 last year.
Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo is among the leading contenders after returning to action with a third-place finish, 5 1/2 lengths behind High Limit, in the Feb. 4 Strub. Owner/breeder Jerry Moss won the 1990 edition of the Big 'Cap with Ruhlmann. Moss, along with wife Ann, also has San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) winner Spellbinder entered.
Giacomo has earned $2,002,316 - although winning just twice in 11 races.
"Giacomo has changed a lot since his 3-year-old year," trainer John Shirreffs said at Wednesday's post position draw breakfast. "He is bigger and heavier. He is a little more aggressive than he was as a 3-year-old, and he has all that experience behind him. I was very happy with his race in the Strub because I really didn't know what to expect."
Trainer Mike Mitchell has his first Big 'Cap starter in the recently purchased Texcess. "He's a really nice horse and fun to train. Paul Aguirre (former trainer) did a really nice job with him. He's a sound horse."
Top This And That, second in the Strub, was not entered because "he popped a quarter crack (right front) and we can't heal it in time," said trainer Dan Hendricks. "It's not going to be a big issue in his total career, but this is the second million dollar race we've missed with him, and it's very, very aggravating."$1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 4:30 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, ML Odds
1. With Distinction (KY), 115, Javier Santiago, 20/1
2. Magnum (ARG), 112, Jon Court, 15/1
3. Texcess (CA), 114, Tyler Baze, 12/1
4. Spellbinder (KY), 115, Martin Pedroza, 10/1
5. High Limit (KY), 120, Patrick Valenzuela, 5/2
6. Lava Man (CA), 120, Corey Nakatani, 3/1
7. Giacomo (KY), 118, Mike Smith, 7/2
8. Wilko (KY), 115, Garrett Gomez, 5/1
9. Marenostrum (BRZ), 112, Victor Espinoza, 12/1