An old-fashioned East vs. West match-up between Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten looms in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
The 68th running of the 1 1/4-mile Big 'Cap tops a card that includes the 3-year-old debut of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) favorite Declan's Moon in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II), a $1 million guaranteed Pick Six, more than $2 million in purse money and a special tribute to retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye. In addition, Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) hero Singletary makes his 2005 debut in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IT).
When Santa Anita Handicap post positions were drawn Wednesday, the beast from the East, Saint Liam, got the extreme outside spot in the field of 11. He carries top weight of 122 pounds.
Saint Liam comes into the race off a win in last month's Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park. He won the Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs in November prior to that.
His main challenger, the West's Rock Hard Ten, drew right alongside at No. 10 with 119 pounds.
Linemaker Jeff Tufts installed Donn Handicap winner Saint Liam the 5-2 morning line favorite, while Rock Hard Ten was a close second choice at 3-1.
Rock Hard Ten, trained this year by Richard Mandella, won the Strub Stakes (gr. II) for 4-year-olds by a nose over Imperialism Feb. 5.
For native Californian Mandella, the Big 'Cap has special significance. The 54-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, born in Altadena and a resident of Bradbury, will saddle Rock Hard Ten and stablemate Congrats on Saturday. Mandella already has two Big 'Cap wins on his impressive resume, winning in 1997 with Siphon and in 1998 with Malek. Another victory wouldn't be monotonous, he says.
"I'd like to win a couple more," Mandella said. "I grew up idolizing the race. It's about as good as it gets, particularly in California, but I don't think the Santa Anita Handicap is restricted to California. It's a world-class race that anybody would treasure winning."
Overwhelming rain in California this season created unorthodox training schedules among horsemen. Mandella was no exception, but he says he's as ready as he can be.
"My one work with Rock Hard Ten was delayed and we were a little compromised with the gallops a few days, but I'm not going to make excuses," Mandella said. "I think everything's fine right now. I think they're as good as they can be."
Lundy's Liability won the last major prep race for the Santa Anita Handicap, the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) Feb. 7, by 1 1/2 lengths over Truly A Judge. The 5-year-old Bobby Frankel trainee was assigned 120 pounds and is 6-1 on the morning line.
In other Big 'Cap news, Borrego breezed three furlongs at Hollywood Park in :37 2/5 for trainer Beau Greely. The filly Island Fashion, second in last year's edition, went four furlongs at Santa Anita in :47.
The weather forecast for Big 'Cap day calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 70 degrees.$1 Million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), 4 & up, 1 1/4 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Lundy's Liability, Pat Valenzuela, 120, 6-1
2. Borrego, Garrett Gomez, 113, 30-1
3. Congrats, Tyler Baze, 115, 12-1
4. Truly A Judge, Martin Pedroza, 117, 12-1
5. Island Fashion, Kerwin John, 113, 10-1
6. Californian, Modesto Linares, 110, 50-1
7. Grand Reward, Rafael Bejarano, 112, 30-1
8. Imperialism, Alex Solis, 117, 4-1
9. Supah Blitz, Victor Espinoza, 115, 15-1
10. Rock Hard Ten, Gary Stevens, 119, 3-1
11. Saint Liam, Edgar Prado, 122, 5-2