Two Trainers have Two Options Going
And so we’ve arrived at the San Felipe Stakes, the final prep before the coveted Santa Anita Derby. The lineup is stacked full of possibilities and big names but headlining the show is a pair of trainers that will each be featuring their own pair of contenders. With the anticipation comes a variety of questions and most importantly expectations. In a weekend slated to feature three graded Kentucky Derby Preps from Florida to California we begin where the liveliest group of derby hopefuls are racing.
The G2 $300,000 San Felipe Stakes carries many different outcomes to dissect but let’s first take a look at the horse that is ranked the highest on our Derby Contender Rankings – Creative Cause by Giant’s Causeway and Dream of Summer. An important factor about this colt and this prep is that a very familiar face will be joining him in the starting gate, his stable mate Empire Way. Sometimes are more ideal than others but the timing of progression between the two seems to have prevented trainer Mike Harrington from going any other direction on the derby trail.
The tag team presents Harrington with quite the opportunity at his first ever San Felipe victory but which horse gives him the better chance on Saturday? Creative Cause enters after having never missed the board in any of his six lifetime races, all of them graded stakes except for his MSW debut. So here’s a horse that is tested against class and tracking well along the trail but the only question is pretty simple, when will he win again?
You have to go back to his final prep prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to find his last win, the G1 Norfolk here at Santa Anita. The win over 1 1/16 mile was impressive and it evened the score against Drill, the Bob Baffert colt that beat him in the 7f G1 Del Mar Futurity his previous time out. After the win Creative Cause was off to Kentucky where he was no match for Union Rags and Hansen down the stretch but was still better than the rest finishing gamely in 3rd.
The 3-yr-old season opened with Drill getting the best of him again in the San Vicente but another 7 furlong defeat and a 3rd place finish doesn’t say much about his overall derby chances. The main reason for that is because Creative Cause is a stalker and is bred to race further than 1 Mile. Although he didn’t win, the way he closed and galloped out indicated that his form is intact and that he is progressing well. To date the farthest he has raced is 1 1/16 mile but his scheduled progression this year is 7f, 1 1/16, 1 1/8 (Santa Anita Derby) and 1 ¼ Mile (Kentucky Derby). Saturday will be a key update on how that development is tracking and if he will remain the #1 West Coast Derby Contender.
A key indicator that he is ready to race and you will it find in your program is his last workout at Hollywood Park – 4F 46.40. The lightning fast training session on 3/6 ranked first out of 34 different works on the day and should give his full-time jockey Joel Rosario a good indication of what to expect from Creative Cause in the San Felipe .
Next to him in the stall is Empire Way by Empire Maker and Delta Princess. Empire Way rebounded back onto the Derby Trail with a 2nd place finish to I’ll Have Another in the Robert B. Lewis, the first race of his 3-yr-old campaign. As a 2-yr-old he came up empty-handed twice in graded stakes races – 5th CashCall and 6th Hollywood Prevue but what’s interesting about Empire Way is that the Robert B. Lewis was his first ever race away from the Synthetics at Hollywood Park. Even though that is where he is stabled and continues to train, I think he will once again show that he likes racing at Santa Anita. Taking over the reins for the first time will be Brice Blanc who was tapped by Harrington for the mount since his regular rider Joel Rosario is staying aboard Creative Cause.
While Mike Harrington leads this write-up with his pair of talented colts, Bob Baffert follows with a lead of his own – Derby Prep wins. His 3 wins this year: Drill – San Vicente; Castaway – Southwest (1st Division); Secret Circle – Southwest (2nd Division). Will his hot streak continue in the San Felipe is the question and a good answer is that Liaison and Bodemeister give him a very good shot at it. Of the two Liaison clearly leads the way in experience so we begin with his 2-yr-old success and an unlucky trip in his 3-yr-old debut.
Riding a 3 race win streak Liaison, son of Indian Charlie, entered the Robert B. Lewis as the highly regarded favorite. Those 3 wins, MSW, Real Quiet, and the CashCall had him on the fast track for Kentucky Derby qualification but an uneasy stretch bid cooled the streak when Liaison clipped heels with Groovin’ Solo and tossed jockey Rafael Bejarano. The good news is that both horse and rider checked out in good condition and the San Felipe presents them both with an opportunity to make a statement.
Besides the blinkers coming off for the very first time the only thing that’s different is that Bejarano won’t be riding Liaison. As the only jockey to ride on both of Baffert’s entries meant that another Baffert regular would get the nod. Martin Garcia will mount up for the first time with Liaison and Bejarano returns to Bodemeister. Considered to be a late developing colt with the potential for making a splash on the Kentucky Derby trail the San Felipe will be only his third lifetime start and first graded stakes.
Unraced as a 2-yr-old the Son of Empire Maker and Untouched Talent made is racing debut on January 16 – 5 ½ MSW, 2nd place. But Bodemeister really began drawing attention when he broke his Maiden by 9 ½ lengths. Scoring a 101 beyer speed figure in the one-mile test really sealed the deal for the Zayat Stables colt and put him on the fast track for graded stakes competition. To the colt’s credit his last workout is another indicator on how quickly he is progressing. Baffert sent him out on March 3 in the company of his stable mate and graded stakes winner Secret Circle and Bodemeister matched him stride for stride over the dirt at Santa Anita. Both clocked in at 1:00.40.
Between these four horses and two trainers there is one big similarity that is very intriguing. It is very common on the derby trail to see horses with proven 2-yr-old success eventually get surpassed by horses that weren’t ready then but are ready now. In this case Empire Way and Bodemeister are the two horses that are in a position to outshine their stable mates at 3 yrs old. While it isn’t always the case that a champion 2-yr-old who becomes a seasoned 3-yr-old will lose his edge before May it is always a possibility along the derby trail. In the San Felipe I see one young up and comer trump his stable mate but I also see a veteran that is too seasoned for that outcome. Between the four I expect Bodemeister and Creative Cause to finish ahead of their counterparts.
A pressing matter may be how far ahead I think they are and what about the remaining entries in the San Felipe Stakes. Rounding out the field of 10 is a mix some class contenders with some that are just now entering the level of graded stakes racing.
*Odds will be posted once they become available
G2 $300,000 San Felipe Stakes | 1 1/16 Mile | Dirt | Race 9, Post Time 4:38 pm
|1||Blingo||M. Smith||J. Shirreffs||8-1|
|2||Bodemeister||R. Bejarano||B. Baffert||3-1|
|3||American Act||M. Pedroza||J. Carava||8-1|
|4||Midnight Transfer||V. Espinoza||C. Gaines||6-1|
|5||Groovin’ Solo||A. Quinonez||M. Cho||20-1|
|6||Liaison||M. Garcia||B. Baffert||6-1|
|7||Creative Cause||J. Rosario||M. Harrington||5-2|
|8||Rousing Sermon||J. Talamo||J. Hollendorfer||8-1|
|9||Tiz Point||G. Gomez||R. Mandella||20-1|
|10||Empire Way||B. Blanc||M. Harrington||6-1|
The most notable contender is Rousing Sermon, 3rd in the Robert B. Lewis and 2nd to Liaison in the Real Quiet and CashCall last year. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Jockey Joe Talamo return to Santa Anita with a big bounce back in mind. A drop in odds before the post could come from his sharp work on 3/4, 46:.60 at Hollywood Park. Outside of him a pair of graded stakes first timers that earn a look as live longshots are Midnight Transfer by Hard Spun and Tiz Point by Tiznow. Both horses enter coming off of a win at Santa Anita their last time out.
Good luck to all of the horses competing in the San Felipe Stakes and their connections. We hope you return to your stables in good order and hopefully see you again along the derby trail.
San Felipe Stakes and the Kentucky Derby
This is a Kentucky Derby Prep that has now produced 11 different Kentucky Derby winners since its inauguration 1935. The first came in 1947 when Jet Pilot finished out of the money in the San Felipe before going on to win the Kentucky Derby. Since then there has been at least 1 San Felipe Stake horse that went on to score the Run for the Roses every decade. Another interesting element to its history is that with the exception of Jet Pilot, a horse has had to finish 1st or 2nd in order to win the Derby. As you will see Bob Baffert prefers racing 2nd in the San Felipe (His 4 lifetime wins did not result in a KYD winner).
Year, Horse, San Felipe Finish
- 2005 Giacomo 2nd
- 2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 1st
- 1998 Real Quiet 2nd
- 1997 Sliver Charm 2nd
- 1989 Sundary Silence 1st
- 1987 Alysheba 2nd
- 1978 Affirmed 1st
- 1965 Lucky Debonair 2nd
- 1959 Tommy Lee 2nd
- 1954 Determine 1st
- 1947 Jet Pilot Not in the Top 3
Written by: Little Brink