A quartet from the deep bench of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is entered in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 12 at Santa Anita Park.
The 1 1/16-mile event for newly turned 4-year-olds is the second leg of Santa Anita's Strub series. Two of the Baffert runners, Guilt Trip and Fed Biz, made no impact in the opening race, the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (gr. I). They are joined this time around by the Hall of Fame conditioner's comebacking Sky Kingdom and Mile High Magic.
Malibu winner Jimmy Creed was not nominated for the San Fernando. Neither were the second or third place finishers in the seven-furlong test, Private Zone and Unbridled's Note, helping to give this longer race a wide-open feel.
The 123-pound high weight in the 10-horse field is Handsome Mike, a two-length winner of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr.II) in September. But Reddam Racing's son of Scat Daddy fared poorly in his two subsequent starts for trainer Doug O'Neill, running ninth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and 10th in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT).
Handsome Mike, who adds blinkers again after racing without in the Hollywood Derby, will spot each of nine rivals five pounds in the San Fernando, the seventh race on Santa Anita's Saturday program with a scheduled post of 3:36 p.m. PST.
Fed Biz, a well-bred son of Giant's Causeway owned by Kaleem Shah, looks for his first graded stakes win. The bay colt, a lifetime winner of three of seven starts, broke slowly from the rail in the Malibu and was unable to muster a rally, finishing sixth, 6 1/4 lengths behind Jimmy Creed. Mike Smith retains the ride.
Likewise, Guilt Trip, a son of Pulpit owned by Gary and Mary West, got away slowly while finishing just ahead of his stablemate in fifth. A recent addition to the Baffert stable from the barn of New York-based Chad Brown, Guilt Trip is seeking a first stakes victory. Joe Talamo takes over.
Mike Pegram's homebred Mile High Magic was fifth in his most recent start, the Damascus Stakes at Santa Anita Nov. 3. The son of Roman Ruler has been favored in all seven of his races to date, winning twice, and makes his graded stakes debut here. Martin Garcia, who was aboard the dark bay colt for a maiden win at Santa Anita last March, regains the mount. Mile High Magic races without blinkers for the first time.
Sky Kingdom make his first appearance since a fifth-place effort in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) nearly a year ago. Owned by Westrock Stables, the well-regarded son of Empire Maker has been working up a storm on the Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park. In his most recent drill, five furlongs from the gate Jan. 5, he was clocked in 1:00 3/5, fourth best of 52 at the distance.
Woodford Racing's Battle Force will try dirt for the first time but will have to deal with the rail for trainer John Shirreffs. The Giant's Causeway colt is coming off a runner-up finish, a half-length behind the promising Silentio, in the one-mile Sire Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) on turf Dec. 26. Garrett Gomez is aboard for the first time. Battle Force is expected to come from off the pace.
Battle Force sat mid-pack in the opening day Sir Beaufort but missed despite rallying stoutly through the lane. He broke his maiden going a mile on turf at Santa Anita Nov. 4, 2011, and was subsequently third with Smith in the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) going a mile on turf at Hollywood Park. His lone non-turf race came this past Nov. 17, when he made his first start in 50 weeks by running second, beaten a half-length at 2-1 on Cushion Track.
O'Neill hopes a return to dirt and a cutback in distance will turn around the fortunes of Handsome Mike, who graduated at Santa Anita as a 2-year-old. Following a ninth-place finish when overmatched in the BC Classic, he stopped badly in the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby after pressing the pace from between horses. He weakened to place 10th in the field of 14. Mario Gutierrez is back in Southern California to take the reins.
One to watch is Fly Lexis Fly, trained by Neil Drysdale for Dona Licha. The Badge of Silver ridgling ran second in last summer's Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs and will get blinkers again coming off a good third in a strong allowance race against older rivals at Hollywood Dec. 1.
Steve Asmussen will take a shot with Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tritap, winner of first-level allowance going 1 3/16 miles at Churchill Downs in his most recent try Nov. 17. The gray/roan son of Tapit was sixth in the Indiana Derby (gr. II) before that.
Regulus and Tribal Jewel will make their stakes debuts.
The final leg of the series is the $200,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 2.
$150,000 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II, Race 7, 3:36 p.m.), 4YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Battle Force (KY), G K Gomez, 118, J A Shirreffs
2. Fly Lexis Fly (KY), R Bejarano, 118, N D Drysdale
3. Regulus (KY), A T Gryder, 118, E G Harty
4. Mile High Magic (KY), M Garcia, 118, B Baffert
5. Guilt Trip (KY), J Talamo, 118, B Baffert
6. Handsome Mike (KY), M Gutierrez, 123, D F O'Neill
7. Sky Kingdom (KY), E A Maldonado, 118, B Baffert
8. Fed Biz (KY), M E Smith, 118, B Baffert
9. Tribal Jewel (CA), J R Leparoux, 118, J Hollendorfer
10. Tritap (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, S M Asmussen
Blinkers On: Handsome Mike, Fly Lexis Fly
Blinkers Off: Mile High Magic