Though it experienced two substantial losses in the past few days, Santa Anita's field for the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 10 could still be the most competitive of the young 2012 Triple Crown season.
Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Out of Bounds sustained a leg injury following a workout March 6 that will require surgery, knocking him off the campaign trail, and the much-anticipated stakes debut of Fed Biz was put on hold after the colt reportedly experienced some tying up of his muscles. But 10 sophomores are still expected to make it to the gate for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, led by grade I winners Creative Cause and Liaison .
The race, which also attracted Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Empire Way as well as stakes winners Midnight Transfer and Rousing Sermon, is the ninth on a 10-race card with a 4:38 p.m. scheduled post. The San Felipe is the main prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 7.
Trainer Mike Harrington entered both Creative Cause and Empire Way, a full brother to female champion filly Royal Delta. Creative Cause will be ridden from post 7 by Joel Rosario while Empire Way drew the far outside post and will be have Brice Blanc aboard for the first time. Both colts are owned by Heinz Steinmann but will be separate betting interests.
Creative Cause made his 2012 debut in the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs Feb. 19, finishing a willing third. The son of Giant's Causeway was an easy winner of the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) last October at Santa Anita prior to posting a close third in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
Empire Way was brought along a little slower last year by Harrington, concluding the season with a fifth in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 17. The Empire Maker colt ran well in his initial start of the season Feb. 4 while finishing 2 3/4 lengths behind the victorious 43-1 shot I'll Have Another in the 1 1/16-mile Robert Lewis.
"Creative Cause, he's a stalker, and I expect quite a bit of pace in the race, and so he'll be mid-pack," Harrington said March 6. "Empire Way, he doesn't need to be last, but he is going to be further back in the field. You know, they have completely different styles, so they're not going to interfere with each other."
Harrington said he is not concerned with either horse going longer distances.
"Really the only reason I'm running them both in the same race is because of the timing," the trainer said. "I had a plan for Creative Cause from the very beginning, which included this race, and Empire Way, I don't really want to ship him out of town at this point in time, plus the timing is right on him also."
Harrington said Creative Cause had a good tightener in the San Vicente and should be on his toes for the San Felipe. He noted that the colt worked five furlongs in :46 2/5 March 6.
"Some people weren't impressed with it, but he got exactly what I wanted out of it," Harrington said of the San Vicente. "He galloped out very strong. He's come back and trained very well. He's not much of a work horse alone, and he worked a :46 and two without being asked, so it looks to me like he should step forward pretty nicely."
Trainer Bob Baffert, a four-time winner of the San Felipe, also entered a pair of colts, CashCall Futurity winner Liaison and fast-developing Bodemeister . The trainer was disappointed that he could not enter Fed Biz, who was expected to start in his first stakes event after a pair of impressive victories at the meet.
“It’s nothing serious,” said Baffert of the decision to delay Fed Biz. “He tied up a little.”
Baffert brings back Arnold Zetcher's Liaison, a disappointment in his first race of the year as the favorite in the Lewis. In his first start since winning the CashCall Futurity, he had given way after tracking the pace into the homestretch and lost his rider when he clipped heels with Groovin' Solo. The two-time stakes-winning son of Indian Charlie should be a fitter horse for his return, which will be his first race without blinkers.
Martin Garcia is aboard the lifetime winner of three of five starts and they will break from post 6.
Bodemeister broke his maiden in his second start by 9 1/4 lengths for Zayat Stables Feb. 11. He earned a 101 Beyer speed figure for the one-mile test, his first race around two turns. This is a huge step up for the Empire Maker colt. Bodemeister held his own against recent grade III Southwest Stakes-winning stablemate Secret Circle in a five-furlong drill March 4 when both were timed in 1:00 2/5.
“Bodemeister looked pretty damn impressive,” Baffert said of the $260,000 yearling's first win. “I’m sort of surprised by what he did, but this is the time of year that we want horses to surprise us. We were a little late getting him going, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’ve never seen a slow, fit, seasoned 3-year-old win the Derby. You still have to have that talent."
Rafael Bejarano has the mount on Bodemeister, who breaks from post 2.
Also coming out of the Lewis is Groovin' Solo, who was rallying when he came in on Liaison and was disqualified and placed seventh. The son of Bob and John is owned, bred, and trained by Myung Kwon Cho, who won last year's San Felipe with Premier Pegasus.
This is also a big test for Rousing Sermon, who was placed third in the Lewis. Mr & Mrs. Larry D. Williams' California homebred son of Lucky Pulpit was the runner-up in the Cash Call Futurity for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, missing by just a neck to Liaison. Joe Talamo has the ride again on Rousing Sermon, who signaled his sharpness with a :46 3/5 half-mile drill at Hollywood Park March 4.
Warren B. Williamson's Midnight Transfer and Howard and Janet Siegel's American Act will each be trying a route distance for the first time. Both are highly regarded and must be considered legitimate threats to upset.
American Act and Bodemeister seem likely to set the pace.
The late-developing Midnight Transfer won the San Pedro Stakes Jan. 22 while coming from off the pace for trainer Carla Gaines. American Act was second by a nose to Drill in the San Vicente after nearly wiring the field for trainer Jack Carava.
Another 3-year-old attempting to use the San Felipe as a springboard to Santa Anita Derby contention is Blingo, who has not raced since closing well to be sixth in the CashCall Futurity. Having been gelded appears to have increased Blingo’s focus. “He’s a gelding for a reason,” noted trainer John Shirreffs.
A son of Artie Schiller purchased by Jerry and Ann Moss for $80,000 as a yearling, Blingo races for the same connections as did Giacomo in 2005. Giacomo went from a second-place finish in the San Felipe to running fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before pulling off a 50-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) under Mike Smith.
Rounding out the field is Diamond A Racing's homebred Tiz Point, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Richard Mandella following an allowance win Feb. 18. Garrett Gomez, who returning from a broken heel expected to be aboard Out of Bounds in the San Felipe, has the call.
$300,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Blingo (KY), M E Smith, 118, J A Shirreffs
2. Bodemeister (VA), R Bejarano, 118, B Baffert
3. American Act (KY), M A Pedroza, 118, J Carava
4. Midnight Transfer (KY), V Espinoza, 118, C Gaines
5. Groovin' Solo (KY), A Quinonez, 118, M K Cho
6. Liaison (KY), M Garcia, 123, B Baffert
7. Creative Cause (KY), J Rosario, 123, M Harrington
8. Rousing Sermon (CA), J Talamo, 118, J Hollendorfer
9. Tiz Point (KY), G K Gomez, 118, R E Mandella
10. Empire Way (KY), B Blanc, 118, M Harrington
Blinkers Off: Groovin' Solo, Liaison