Desert Code , 35-1 upset winner of the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall, makes his 5-year-old debut in the $100,000 Daytona Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 15, regardless of whether the race remains on the hillside turf course.
Plenty of wet weather is expected during the holiday weekend in Southern California, which could result in the race being transferred to the Pro-Ride main track. Santa Anita track superintendent Richard Tedesco said the local weather forecast calls for up to two inches of rain Feb. 15-16.
“We’ll run anyway,” trainer David Hofmans said of his millionaire earner Desert Code. “He likes the synthetic, especially if it’s a little wet.”
Tarabilla Farms' Desert Code loves the hillside course, where he has won four times in six tries. One of his poor efforts over the layout came in last year's Daytona when he finished 11th. Hofmans wasn't concerned about last year’s uncharacteristic showing, saying, “He has never been better, and he loves this course.”
Eight entered the 6 1/2-furlong event on the same course where Desert Code conquered his Breeders' Cup rivals Oct. 25. The son of E Dubai rallied from 10th entering the stretch to register a shocking half-length victory.
Aaron Gryder replaces Richard Migliore, who rode the chestnut horse to victory in the Turf Sprint but "has several to ride in Florida that day,” Hofmans said. Gryder has ridden Desert Code twice in the past, finishing third by a head in the 2007 Hollywood Turf Express (gr. IIIT) and second by a half-length in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track last year. They'll break from the inside post in the Daytona while toting top weight of 122 pounds.
The two-time grade III winner comes into the race with a 6-4-2 record in 19 starts with earnings of $1,028,939.
Sky Cape, winner of the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) at Del Mar last August, makes his first start since a sixth-place finish in the off-the-turf Sir Beaufort (gr. IIIT) on opening day of the Santa Anita meet Dec. 26. Trained by Kristin Mulhall for Steve Taub and partners, the 4-year-old Najran colt won three in a row last year and boasts a career mark of 5-4-1 in 16 starts while banking $320,230.
The second high weight under 118 pounds, Sky Cape has an allowance win and a runner-up finish in last year's Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) in his two starts on the hillside course.
Zayat Stables' Z Humor, a newcomer to the barn of Mike Mitchell who previously ran for Todd Pletcher, makes his Southern California debut hoping to end a nine-race losing streak. The 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt has not won since capturing the Boyd Gaming Delta Downs Jackpot as a 2-year-old in December 2007.
Z Humor has never raced on the turf. The bay has won just twice in 14 lifetime starts but has earned $657,265.
Irish-bred Dark Islander has not been out since a game third-place showing in Del Mar's Wickerr Handicap in his American debut July 25. Neil Drysdale trains the 6-year-old Singspiel horse.
Trainer Bob Baffert will be represented by Guns On the Table, fifth-place finisher in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) who ran third in his most recent start, an optional claiming/allowance race on Pro-Ride Jan. 17. The 4-year-old son of Carson City would be making his turf debut.
Big Bad Leroybrown, Euroglide, and New Zealand-bred Majestic Diamondcomplete the field.
$100,000 Daytona Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 3, 1:31 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 6 1/2 Furlongs (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Desert Code (KY), 122, Aaron T. Gryder
2. Z Humor (KY), 115, Garrett K. Gomez
3. Euroglide (FL), 114, Michael C. Baze
4. Sky Cape (KY), 118, Mike E. Smith
5. Guns On the Table (KY), 113, Tyler Baze
6. Dark Islander (IRE), 115, Rafael Bejarano
7. Majestic Diamond (NZ), 116, Julien Couton
8. Big Bad Leroybrown (CA), 113, Joel Rosario