Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Square Eddie makes his highly-anticipated 3-year-old debut Jan. 17 at Santa Anita when he takes on seven rivals in the $100,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
The one-mile San Rafael, which has been won by former Kentucky Derby (gr. I) starters such as Tabasco Cat and Brother Derek, is the second of three graded stakes to be run on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride Jan. 17. The seventh race on a nine-race card, it is scheduled to go to post at 3:36 p.m. PDT.
Square Eddie has been near the top of most Kentucky Derby watch lists since romping to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Futurity Oct. 4 at Keeneland. The son of Smart Strike took the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack event while making his first start in the states for trainer Doug O’Neill. The chestnut colt was purchased privately by J. Paul Reddam in September after making his first four starts in England.
In the Oct. 25 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, Square Eddie finished only 1 1/4 lengths behind Midshipman as the favorite while wearing blinkers for the first time. He was sent to Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif. after the race, where he rested for a couple weeks before being returning to O’Neill’s barn.
Square Eddie has been working steadily at Hollywood Park, his last breeze coming on Jan. 8 when he went six furlongs in 1:13.40.
"He's doing fantastic. He looks great, full of energy," O'Neill said. "We gave him 83 days between the Breeders' Cup and the San Rafael, so he's been freshened and he looks ready to roll."
Originally purchased for $200,000 at the Keeneland September 2007 yearling sale, Square Eddie is out of the El Gran Senor mare Forty Gran. He was bred in Canada by Kinghaven Farms Limited. California's leading rider Rafael Bejarano will get the mount once more on Square Eddie, who will carry top of 122 pounds.
O'Neill has hinted that after the San Rafael, Square Eddie may be headed to dirt -- possibly the Feb. 7 Risen Star (gr. III) at Fair Grounds -- to prepare for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. No decisions have been made, however.
"I don't know, O'Neill said. "That would definitely be a Team Reddam decision, but I'm pretty certain there would be at least one dirt prep if all goes well, maybe two. But Saturday's a big day and we're hoping for a big effort and see him come out of it good."
Among those that will be trying to knock off the probable favorite are three colts that broke their maiden last out. The one with the most buzz is Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Brother Keith, a son of Johar who won at first asking Nov. 8 at Churchill. Brother Keith, from the barn of Bobby Frankel, won that 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight contest by 2 1/4 lengths under Robby Albarado.
Brother Keith was sent to California after his debut to train on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride. His latest work was on Jan. 3 when he went five furlongs in :59-flat, the second best of 76 works that day. Top rider Garrett Gomez has the mount for the first time in the San Rafael.
"You gotta try him someplace," Frankel said. "We'll learn more about him this weekend."
Also making their stakes debuts are The Pamplemousse and Papa Clem, who both broke their maiden at third asking. The Pamplemousse, trained by Julio Canini, was impressive while taking a 1 1/16-mile test by nearly three lengths Dec. 14 at Hollywood.
Also deserving of consideration are Feisty Suances and Fiddlers Afleet, both runner-up in stakes company last out.
Red Baron’s Barn homebred Feisty Suances won the first three starts of his career before missing by only a length in the restricted California Breeders’ Champion Stakes Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. The Darrell Vienna trainee is expected to be a pace factor in the San Rafael.
Fiddlers Afleet raced seven times as a juvenile, winning just once but finishing in the money in every start. Last out, the son of Northern Afleetwas runner-up to promising 3-year-old Haynesfield in the Damon Runyon Stakes Dec. 7 at Aqueduct. He will test a synthetic surface for the first time.