Trainer Doug O'Neill has a pair of up-and-coming 3-year-olds, Friendswith K Mill and Frensham, preparing for the second half of the 2014 campaign in the $100,000 Affirmed Stakes (gr. III) June 7 at Santa Anita Park.
They are among a field of eight sophomores looking to break through at the graded level in the 1 1/16-mile main track test that also features the 2014 debut of trainer Bob Baffert's stakes winner Can the Man.
Friendswith K Mill has taken a couple of shots in graded stakes this season without success, running seventh in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 5 and fifth in the Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs three weeks later. The colt by Flashy Bull comes off a Santa Anita allowance/optional claiming win May 11 as the favorite at the the Affirmed distance.
O'Neill, who trains Friendswith K Mill for a partnership that includes Neil Haymes, Dave Kenney, and Wonderland Racing Stables, has tabbed Tyler Baze to ride the gray colt once more. They break from post 6.
The trainer also starts Zillah Reddam's homebred Frensham, a son of Square Eddie that comes off a smart 2 1/2-length victory over maidens bred in California as the favorite May 9. The chestnut colt has started five times and leaves from gate 3 with Mario Gutierrez aboard.
Kaleem Shah's Can the Man has been idle since winning the Speakeasy Stakes in October but will likely be favored off his company lines and a sizzling recent work tab for Baffert. The Into Mischief colt ran third in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last summer and then was fourth in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 28 after weakening in his first try around two turns. He won the six-furlong Speakeasy a couple of weeks later by nearly two lengths as the 4-5 pick.
Can the Man has posted four consecutive bullet works for his return, the most recent coming at six furlongs out of the gate at Santa Anita May 31 in 1:11 flat. Martin Garcia, who has ridden the bay in all of his prior four races, has the return call from post 4.
Thor-Bred Stable's maiden winner Arkenstone, second to Friendswith K Mill last time, will attempt to turn the tables for trainer Dan Hendricks.
Forever Juanito, flashy gate-to-wire winner of the listed Desert Code Stakes May 3, tries dirt for the first time for trainer Victor Garcia, who owns the Badge of Silver gelding along with his father, Juan.
New Mexico shipper Rebranded won the Riley Allison Futurity last December for trainer Justin Evans and was previously trained by Todd Pletcher. The Tiznow colt was subsequently second in the Mine that Bird Derby and fourth in the Sunland Derby this spring.
$100,000 Affirmed Stakes (gr. III, Race 9, 4 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Arkenstone (KY), J Talamo, D L Hendricks
2. Big Tire (KY), F H Perez, M Glatt
3. Frensham (CA), M Gutierrez, D F O'Neill
4. Can the Man (KY), M Garcia, B Baffert
5. Rebranded (KY), E Trujillo, J R Evans
6. Friendswith K Mill (KY), T Baze, D F O'Neill
7. Forever Juanito (KY), A Delgadillo, V L Garcia
8. Lolo El Canonero (KY), A Maldonado, P Miller
All assigned 118 pounds.