El Gato Malo makes his third start since winning last year’s Lone Star Derby (gr. III) in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 17, part of a graded stakes triple-header at Santa Anita. The beaten favorite in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) is part of a wide open field of a dozen 4-year-olds in the 1 1/16-mile test over the Pro-Ride racing surface.
Trained by Craig Dollase, El Gato Malo is the 122-pound highweight in the second leg of the Strub series. His primary competition appears to be a pair of turf runners -- Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) winner Muny and Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) victor Madeo -- as well as Swaps Stakes (gr. II) winner Tres Borrachos and Booted, a son of A.P. Indy who will be making his stakes debut following a pair of impressive comeback victories.
El Gato Malo, the highest earner in the field with purse earnings of $456,160, was a leading Triple Crown hopeful last year. But a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, in which El Gato Malo lacked any punch in the homestretch, put him on the minor derby trail. The El Corredor gelding went to the sidelines with what Dollase described as “a minor leg injury” following his half-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Lone Star Derby on May 10.
Owned by West Coast Thoroughbreds, El Gato Malo has made two starts since returning to action in November, including a fast-closing third in the Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. III) Dec. 26, a race that came off the turf on opening day of the current meet. Corey Nakatani will take over aboard El Gato Malo, who has a 4-1-1 record in eight career starts, for the first time. El Gato Malo won the San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) a year ago at Santa Anita.
Muny may have been overtaxed by the 10-furlong distance of the Hollywood Derby in his last start, but while the speedy Najran gelding faded to fifth after setting the pace, he was beaten by less than two lengths by Court Vision.
The Mike Puype trainee should find the San Fernando distance on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride more to his liking.
“He’s consistent,” said jockey David Flores, who has ridden Muny in each of his five starts, three of them victories including the Oak Tree Derby last Oct. 25. “He ran a really good race last time. He just got beat late.”
Muny broke his maiden at one mile on Del Mar’s Polytrack last July 28. “He was sitting off another horse, and he ran a good race,” Flores recalled. “That doesn’t mean I’d be surprised if he went to the lead (in the San Fernando), because that’s his style. But if anybody else goes crazy, he can lay off.”
Muny worked six furlongs on Pro-Ride Jan. 11 in 1:11 4/5 with Flores up.
Trainer Richard Mandella said Booted is doing so well after back-to-back wins in his first starts since last February that he abandoned an earlier plan to wait until Feb. 7 for the $250,000 Strub (gr. II).
“He’s really blooming right now,” Mandella said. Booted, a son of A.P. Indy, captured a first-level allowance race by 2 1/2 lengths over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day after breaking his maiden 2 1/2 weeks earlier. Victor Espinoza rides.
Madeo, a homebred for Jerry and Ann Moss, returns to a synthetic surface after four consecutive races on turf, which included his Del Mar Derby win and a runner-up effort by a neck to Muny in the Oak Tree Derby. The Mizzen Mast colt, conditioned by John Shirreffs, has won twice in five starts on synthetics.
Tres Borrachos has struggled in three starts since winning the Swaps for trainer Beau Greely. The Ecton Park gelding is coming off a seventh-place finish in the Oak Tree Derby, his only try on grass in a 13-race career that includes two wins and earnings of $401,122
Trainer Bobby Frankel has shipped in Wishful Tomcat from the East Coast for the San Fernando. With five wins in his last six starts, the New York-bred Tactical Cat chestnut is coming off a victory in the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct on Nov. 22. Wishful Tomcat has banked $280,509 for IEAH Stables from a 5-3-1 record in 11 races.
Slew's Tiznow, coming off a 3 1/2-length win in the War Chant at Hollywood Park Nov. 27, could slip in under the radar for trainer Doug O'Neill. The Tiznow colt faltered in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, finishing 10th, but won the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar before that following a layoff of more than 10 months. The Joseph Lacombe homebred ran second in Keeneland's Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) in 2007.
$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), 4-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Muny (KY), 120, David Flores
2. Wishful Tomcat (NY), 118, Joel Rosario
3. Cherokee Artist (KY), 118, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
4. Blue Exit (KY), 116, Jesus Rios
5. Booted (KY), 116, Victor Espinoza
6. Nownownow (KY), 116, Joseph Talamo
7. Madeo (KY), 120, Mike Smith
8. El Gato Malo (KY), 122, Corey Nakatani
9. Silver Sword (KY), 116, Michael Baze
10. Slew's Tiznow (KY), 118, Rafael Bejarano
11. Tres Borrachos (KY), 120, Tyler Baze
12. Dakota Phone (KY), 118, Garrett Gomez