Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale will be looking for his sixth lifetime win in the $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) on the turf March 22 at Santa Anita Park, and with two of the five entrants, he has a good shot to get it.
A short field of distance specialists from an original 14 nominees is lined up for in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey, which is race 4 on the Saturday card with a 2 p.m. PDT scheduled post. Drysdale has the French-bred Lucayan as well as outsider Fire With Fire.
Lucayan and Vagabond Shoes were each assigned top weight of 123 pounds. The French-bred Lucayan, a group I classic winner at a mile in his native country, has a victory at the San Luis Rey distance, taking the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IIT) Dec. 14 at Betfair Hollywood Park. In posting his only win from eight North American starts, he defeated five opponents that day including Temeraine, who returns in the San Luis Rey as well.
Pandora Stud's 5-year-old son of Turtle Bowl has had one start since the Turf Cup, closing well to finish third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Vagabond Shoes in the 10-furlong San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) Feb. 8. Mike Smith, who rode Lucayan last time, is back aboard. The bay horse sports a lifetime mark of 4-4-3 in 16 races with field-best earnings of $683,858.
"He’s already won at a mile and a half," Drysdale said "He had a wide trip last out. Hopefully, he’ll get a better run on Saturday."
Drysdale is also represented by Fire With Fire, who ventured to Turf Paradise to capture the Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap in his most recent race Jan. 18. Fire With Fire is owned by David Heerensperger, for whom Drysdale won the San Luis Rey twice—in 2010 and 2012—with Bourbon Bay. Drysdale's other wins in the race came with Forty Niners Son (2007), Single Empire (1999), and Prized (1990).
Charlie Whittingham is the all-time leader in San Luis Rey training wins with nine.
Hronis Racing's Vagabond Shoes has been in great form since last May, posting two wins and three seconds from six starts for trainer John Sadler. The Irish-bred's only race off the board in that span came in a good fifth-place effort after tiring in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), which is his only start at 12 furlongs.
In the San Marcos, Vagabond Shoes rallied five wide into the stretch to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. Now 7, the Beat Hollow gelding won last year's Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) and also ran second in both the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) and John Henry Turf Cup (gr. IIT). He owns a lifetime mark of 8-5-3 from 29 starts with earnings of $665,489. Victor Espinoza remains aboard the chestnut and they drew the rail.
Vagabond Shoes has defeated Lucayan in all three of their prior meetings.
Temeraine, trained by Tom Proctor for Niall Racing, found all kinds of trouble while attempting to rally from way back in the San Marcos, finishing eighth (moved up to seventh by disqualification). The 5-year-old Arch gelding appears better suited to 12 furlongs. In addition to his big effort in the Hollywood Turf Cup as the 7-5 favorite, he won the Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at the distance last September, and turned in an even fifth on yielding ground in the Canadian International (Can-IT).
Gary Stevens has the return call on Temeraine, who gets five pounds from Lucayan and Vagabond Shoes.
Niagara Falls, seventh in his comeback allowance race at 1 1/8 miles March 6 for trainer Patrick Biancone, completes the field. The 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway was fourth in his prior start, the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood last June. Rafael Bejarano rides.
$200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 4, 2 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Vagabond Shoes (IRE), V Espinoza, 123, J W Sadler
2. Niagara Falls (KY), R Bejarano, 118, P L Biancone
3. Lucayan (FR), M E Smith, 123, N D Drysdale
4. Fire With Fire (KY), T Baze, 118, N D Drysdale
5. Temeraine (KY), G L Stevens, 118, T F Proctor