With champion Declan's Moon on the sidelines, the 3-year-old throne in California is up for grabs in Saturday's San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), which has attracted a field of eight, headed by Wilko, Roman Ruler, and Consolidator. But there are at least three others with credentials who will attempt to seize the crown.
Wilko, winner of the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and Roman Ruler, winner of the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II), will be making their long-awaited 3-year-old debuts for trainers Craig Dollase and Bob Baffert, respectively, while Consolidator is coming off a close fourth in the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II).
If the son of Storm Cat can bounce back with a huge effort on Saturday, it will give trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, a strong two-pronged attack from both coasts, as their other big colt, Going Wild, second to Declan's Moon in the Santa Catalina (gr. II), is headed for New York and the Wood Memorial (gr. I).
Whoever wins the San Felipe will have to earn it, and neither Wilko or Roman Ruler can expect an easy race. In addition to Consolidator, the 1 1/16-mile race has drawn the exciting and promising Don't Get Mad, who closed like a rocket to finish second in the San Vicente; Golden Shine, an impressive allowance winner last time out for trainer Dave Hofmans; and the hard-knocking Giacomo, who gave Declan's Moon a run for his money when second in last year's Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). The son of Holy Bull finished third in the Sham Stakes this year, losing a shoe during the running of the race.
Also entered are Lucky J.H. and In Excelsis, a former European colt who finished an even fifth in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer in his U.S. debut for Ron McAnally. He is regally bred, being by Fusaichi Pegasus , out of the top-class stakes winner Lakeway.
The main question surrounding the race is, as usual this year, the weather. Rain is forecast in Southern California Friday through Monday. "I'm running no matter what," Baffert said. "I have no choice. I need to run him."
Wilko, who will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, will break from post 6 and should come back running after a series of strong works. The son of Awesome Again showed his Juvenile score was no fluke when he finished a close third in the Hollywood Futurity, despite suffering a quarter crack a couple of days before the race and getting squeezed down on the rail nearing the quarter pole.
Baffert's main goal this winter, in addition to getting Roman Ruler's feet in good shape, has been to get the son of Fusaichi Pegasus to relax. After his last work, a mile in 1:38 3/5, Baffert is confident he's succeeded. Roman Ruler, not only has been plagued with a quarter crack, he had a undescended testicle, which had been bothering him, removed after the Breeders' Cup. So, expect a different Roman Ruler this year. With his natural talent, if he's become more professional and relaxed, we could see a star emerge on Saturday...if he can handle the expected wet track. Gary Stevens will ride for the first time, replacing Nakatani.
Consolidator has run twice on wet tracks, finishing fourth both times, including last year's Hopeful Stakes (gr. I).
The X-factor in the San Felipe is Don't Get Mad, who will try to get Ron Ellis to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) after the trainer had to endure the crushing injury to Declan's Moon. If the son of Stephen Got Even can demonstrate the same closing going two turns he's shown in his three sprints, we could be looking at a special horse. His final eighth in the San Vicente was sensational, coming home in :11 2/5, making up four lengths on the winner, Fusaichi Rock Star, who was storming home in :12 1/5. He drew the rail, with Tyler Baze aboard.
Golden Shine, a son of Touch Gold, is the other big unknown, never having competed in a stakes. But his 7 1/2-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race suggests he has a bright future. He'll be ridden by Rene Douglas and break from post 7.
Giacomo is as steady as they come, and his best race also puts him right in the thick of things. Although his trademark has been a steady, grinding stretch run, he did break his maiden by 10 lengths going 1 1/16 miles, so he does have some pop to him. Mike Smith returns and will break from post 4.
San Felipe field:
PP, Horse, Wt, Jockey
1 -- Don't Get Mad, 116, Tyler Baze
2 -- Lucky J.H., 116, Jon Court
3 -- In Excelsis, 116, Alex Solis
4 -- Giacomo, 116, Mike Smith
5 -- Roman Ruler, 116, Gary Stevens
6 -- Wilko, 116, Corey Nakatani
7 -- Golden Shine, 116, Rene Douglas
8 -- Consolidator, 116, Rafael Bejarano