Bayern should draw most of the attention in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 8 at Santa Anita Park following his dazzling 15-length allowance win for trainer Bob Baffert.
One of 10 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile event, Bayern comes into the San Felipe as strictly the one to beat. The race, the fifth on the Saturday card at Santa Anita with a 2 p.m. scheduled post, serves as the final major local prep for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 5.
Kaleem Shah's lightly raced son of Offlee Wild was a $320,000 buy from the Eddie Woods consignment at last May's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He is the third winner from as many to race out of the Thunder Gulch mare Alittlebitearly.
Bayern debuted with a 3 1/4-length maiden special weight victory going seven furlongs Jan. 4. that was followed by his smashing run in the first-level allowance at one mile Feb. 13 in which he distanced four opponents, including stablemate Tap It Rich. He has been awarded Beyer figures of 92 and 98 in his two races and was sent off as the odds-on choice in each.
Gary Stevens has the call for his fellow Hall of Fame member on Bayern, named for the top German soccer club.
"I was pretty impressed with his last race," Baffert said. "We thought he was doing well going into the race, and he just got out there and kept going. He was stretching out to two turns and the way he did it was pretty exciting. The San Felipe is going to be a pretty tough race and we'll learn more about him. Gary has worked him a couple of times and is very happy with him."
Baffert, who has won the San Felipe four times but not since 2009 with Pioneerof the Nile , also entered Midnight Hawk, the Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner who was third as the favorite in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 8. The gray Midnight Lute colt was 1 3/4 lengths behind Candy Boy, who after that sharp victory is generally regarded as the West Coast's top Triple Crown candidate.
"He's coming into the race really well," Baffert said of Midnight Hawk, who will not be facing Candy boy this time. "This is his last chance to show me something. He backed off a step off his win in the Sham, but he's still a pretty good horse. We've been working with him to get him to be more manageable. He got rank last time and didn't have a lot of kick turning for home. When he learns to settle, he will be more effective."
Owned by a partnership that includes Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, Midnight Hawk was bred in Kentucky by Mike Pegram. Mike Smith has ridden the colt in all of races.
Hronis Racing's Kristo makes his first appearance since a good second in the one-mile Sham Jan. 11 for trainer John Sadler, who won the San Felipe in 2010 with Sidney's Candy. Kristo, a Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor , has had six works since the Sham, his most recent a six-furlong move in 1:13 2/5 March 3. Joel Rosario replaces Rafael Bejarano, who had ridden Kristo in all four of his prior races.
California Chrome , who has dominated state-bred stakes competition for trainer Art Sherman in his two previous starts, gets a severe test here. The Lucky Pulpit colt has won four of his eight starts, making him the most experienced of the San Felipe entrants. He was a daylight winner of both the seven-furlong King Glorious on closing day at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 22 and Santa Anita's 1 1/16 miles California Cup Derby Jan. 25. California Chrome has been visually impressive and has his veteran conditioner thinking big this spring.
Owned by his breeders, Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, California Chrome has worked four times at his Los Alamitos base in preparation for the San Felipe; his most recent drill was a five-furlong move in 1:00 2/5 over a wet-fast strip March 2. He will again be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who has been aboard for his last two wins.
Once a kingpin in Southern California, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas makes a rare stop at Santa Anita with Zayat Stables' Unstoppable Colby, a gate-to-wire maiden winner by a neck going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park Feb. 20. A Kentucky-bred colt by Pulpit, Unstoppable Colby was well beaten in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Jan. 20. He'll be ridden for the first time by Luis Saez, who is aboard Will Take Charge for Lukas in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) later in the day.
Lukas last won the San Felipe in 2005 with Consolidator.
Maiden Rprettyboyfloyd was third, beaten 6 1/4 lengths in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 16 for trainer Denise Breuer. The Bluegrass Cat ridgling will try two turns for the first time Saturday. He closed much ground in his debut Jan. 4, when second to Bayern by 3 1/4 lengths.
Trainer David Hofmans will be represented by a pair in the San Felipe, Home Run Kitten and Schoolofhardrocks. Maiden Sawyer's Hill and Reddam Racing's Recanted, making his first start on dirt after beginning his career on turf in Great Britain, complete the field.
The San Felipe is worth 50 points to the winner toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
$300,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II, Race 5, 2 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Home Run Kitten (KY), A Quinonez, 118, D E Hofmans
2. Unstoppable Colby (KY), L Saez, 118, D W Lukas
3. Rprettyboyfloyd (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, D E Breuer
4. California Chrome (CA), V Espinoza, 118, A Sherman
5. Sawyer's Hill (KY), M Garcia, 118, K Mulhall
6. Bayern (KY), G L Stevens, 118, B Baffert
7. Kristo (KY), J Rosario, 118, J W Sadler
8. Schoolofhardrocks (KY), J Talamo, 118, D E Hofmans
9. Midnight Hawk (KY), M E Smith, 120, B Baffert
10. Recanted (KY), M Gutierrez, 118, D F O'Neill