Ax Man wins his debut Jan. 1 at Santa Anita Park

Ax Man wins his debut Jan. 1 at Santa Anita Park

Benoit Photo

High-Upside Colts Face Off in San Vicente

Bob Baffert-trained 3-year-olds Ax Man and Nero highlight a short field.

The sky may be the limit for a pair of recent maiden winners from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and they'll have a chance to deliver on their promise Feb. 10 in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

Hal and Patti Earnhardt's Ax Man was arguably the most impressive maiden special weight winner of the Santa Anita meet so far in a runaway, 9 1/2-length debut score Jan. 1, while Coolmore and Stonestreet Stables' Nero just edged stablemate Curly's Rocket by a nose Jan. 13.

Both of those victories were sprinting and the two speedy 3-year-old colts will stay at one turn for now in the seven-furlong San Vicente.

"The farther you go, they're not going to go as fast," Baffert said. "But (Ax Man is) quick and has that natural speed. We'll see what he does here and then stretch him out. We could have stretched him out more, but I decided to give him one more (sprint). The timing was good."

Nero, a $950,000 purchase out of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale in 2016, finished second in his debut at odds of 1-2 Aug. 27 at Del Mar to next-out Speakeasy Stakes winner Beautiful Shot, but got an extended break before his maiden win in mid-January.

"He really didn't like Del Mar too much, and then we got him back (to Santa Anita) and we didn't feel like he was mentally up for (another race), but he stayed in training," Baffert said of the Pioneerof the Nile  colt. "He's doing pretty well, and we almost didn't run him here, because he had a little temperature (recently). But he's worked really well and he's pretty tough.

"If you look at him, he's a beautiful horse. He looks expensive and he can run."

Ax Man, by Misremembered , was identified early as a talented colt and was flattered by Feb. 3 Robert B. Lewis (G3) winner Lombo, an opponent he defeated by 10 1/2 lengths a month prior.

"We've always liked him, even when he was a foal. He was a standout at the farm," Baffert said. "And in training there was always life. We knew he was a pretty nice horse."

The lone entrant with graded experience is Kaleem Shah's All Out Blitz, who ran second to another Baffert-trained 3-year-old star, McKinzie, in the Jan. 6 Sham Stakes (G3). Also a speedy type, the Concord Point colt trained by Simon Callaghan could contribute to a hot pace.

But All Out Blitz is in the unique position of an early season cutback in distance after the one-mile Sham. While so many horsemen are trying to gauge if their horses will stretch out, Callaghan is dialing back a furlong for the San Vicente.

"Obviously (Ax Man) was very impressive in beating maiden opposition and obviously he's the one who worries me most, but the fact that we have some good races under our belt and ran a mile last time will stand us in good stead," Callaghan said. "It seems that the horse is doing really well and he's shown he's effective going short. He ran against a better horse last time, quite honestly, but in this race, I like the angle of running well at a mile and cutting back."

The beneficiary of a hot pace might be J K Racing Stable and Bruce Chandler's Kris' Rocket Kat. The Richard Baltas-trained Eskendereya colt broke his maiden sprinting with a stalk-and-pounce style by 3 1/4 lengths Nov. 25 at Del Mar, but similar to Nero and many other horses on the Santa Anita backside in recent months, caught a bug and had an elevated temperature this winter, which delayed his training.

Although Baltas would have liked to start Kris' Rocket Kat sooner in 2018, he has high hopes for the colt, especially with an outside draw similar to his last start, so he can stalk the speed inside of him.

"It's a tough race, but I love the draw," Baltas said of the outside post in the six-colt field. "I love the way he ran at Del Mar and I think he wants more distance. He just has to perform well to go the next step."

Kris' Rocket Kat made his debut in September at Santa Anita, but broke slowly from the rail and had trouble keeping up with some horses who have already showed up on the early Triple Crown trail—Mourinho, Peace, and Instilled Regard—with varied success.

"I hope he's good as I want him to be," Baltas said.

Completing the field is maiden winner Kanthaka and Mr. Jagermeister, a stakes winner at Canterbury Park over the summer who also placed in two other stakes in 2017 and has been training at Turf Paradise in Arizona for Valorie Lund.

Entries: San Vicente S. (G2)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, February 10, 2018, Race 6

  • Grade II
  • 7f
  • Dirt
  • $200,000
  • 3 yo
  • 2:44 PM (local)
11Ax Man (KY)Drayden Van Dyke120Bob Baffert6/5
22Mr. Jagermeister (MN)Geovanni Franco120Valorie Lund6/1
33Nero (KY)Victor Espinoza120Bob Baffert8/1
44All Out Blitz (KY)Tyler Baze120Simon Callaghan7/2
55Kanthaka (KY)Flavien Prat120Jerry Hollendorfer5/1
66Kris' Rocket Kat (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRafael Bejarano120Richard Baltas4/1