Run at 1 1/16 miles, Saturday’s $400,000, Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes is the final steppingstone to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7. The race is worth 50-20-10-5 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Some major stars have won this race, including Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978 and Kentucky Derby winners Sunday Silence (1989), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), and California Chrome (2014). Other high-profile San Felipe winners include Point Given (2001), Medaglia d’Oro (2002), and American Pharoah’s father Pioneerof the Nile (2009).
Trainer Bob Baffert, who saddles McKinzie in this year’s San Felipe, has won the race a record six times, but none of those horses has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Since 2000, three Kentucky Derby winners have come out of the San Felipe: race victors Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) and California Chrome (2014) as well as Giacomo (2nd in 2005 San Felipe).
Ten of the last 11 San Felipe winners made their start prior at Santa Anita Park, and eight of the last 11 entered the race off a win.
Here are five questions that must be answered …
1. What do you expect from Bolt d’Oro’s seasonal debut?
“The Bolt Show” took the racing world by storm late last summer. He won three consecutive races to begin his career, including an emphatic romp over the highly regarded Solomini in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita.
Sent off as the overwhelming 7-10 favorite in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, a poor break from the gate, an issue which had surfaced in earlier races, proved to be his undoing. Forced wide from an outside post, he eventually rallied into third behind Good Magic. The trip can easily be used as an excuse, and to an extent it was, but it must be noted that the outside part of the track was the place to be Breeders’ Cup weekend.
A pulled muscle in his hind end delayed the start of Bolt d’Oro’s 3-year-old campaign, and he looked stiff in his early gallops and workouts. He seems to have worked out the kinks in recent weeks and appears ready for Saturday’s assignment.
A $630,000 yearling purchase, Bolt d’Oro is by Medaglia d’Oro out of the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot. He is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to the quality sprinter Sonic Mule, and there are some route influences on the dam’s side of the pedigree.
Trainer Mick Ruis, who also owns Bolt d’Oro, has 36 career victories (10.8%). Bolt d’Oro is his only graded stakes winner. One can easily question his experience training good horses.
Joe’s answer: Like everyone else in the horse racing community, I’m anxious and intrigued. Bolt d’Oro has shown flashes (pun intended) of being brilliant, but he’s not without his knocks – trainer, bumpy road to his 3-year-old debut, poor gate breaks, etc. I expect him to run well enough, but not to win.
2. How strong is Bob Baffert’s 2018 Kentucky Derby hand?
In addition to McKinzie, who will vie for San Felipe favoritism with Bolt d’Oro, Baffert has at least two other top Kentucky Derby prospects in Solomini, who is on target for the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and recent maiden winner Justify, who is entered in a Sunday allowance race at Santa Anita.
A $170,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase, McKinzie is by Street Sense out of the Petionville mare Runway Model, who won both the Grade 2 Darley Alcibiades Stakes and Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes as a 2-year-old.
Undefeated from three starts, McKinzie won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity via the disqualification of his stablemate Solomini, with eventual Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes winner Instilled Regard checking in second after Solomini was placed third.
McKinzie waltzed in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in his follow-up start, with eventual Southwest Stakes winner My Boy Jack finishing an overmatched third.
Joe’s answer: It’s only March, but with arguably three of the top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders in his shedrow, Baffert’s hand appears strong.
This time last year, we were talking about two horses from this camp, Mastery, who won the San Felipe impressively while suffering a career-ending injury during the race, and American Anthem, who would eventually ply his trade as a sprinter.
Three years removed from having a Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah, Baffert, who has won four Kentucky Derbys, did not have a starter in last year’s race, and in 2016, his Mor Spirit (10th) wasn’t considered to be a legitimate contender.
In both of his stakes wins, McKinzie can be seen swishing his tail incessantly in deep stretch. The first time it was in the heat of battle, but last out he did it while seemingly having plenty left in the tank. If a horse gets mad while under pressure, that doesn’t bode well for his ability to handle stronger competition over longer distances.
Solomini has proven to be nothing but rock solid and reliable, but is he spectacular? We will learn a lot more about him in the Rebel.
Justify is the wild card. His debut win couldn’t have been more impressive, but he’s fighting the curse of Apollo (no Kentucky Derby winner has not raced at age two since 1882). If he runs, Justify will be an overwhelming favorite in Sunday’s two-turn allowance debut.
Purchased for $500,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, he’s by Scat Daddy out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, who does have some route influences on her side of the pedigree.
3. If not Bolt d’Oro or McKinzie, then who?
Joe’s answer: I’m intrigued by Kanthaka and Aquila.
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Kanthaka has improved with every start. A sizzling hot pace set the table for his late run in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes last out, and the San Felipe will mark his first race around two turns.
Purchased for $140,000 at a 2-year-olds in training sale, Kanthaka is the first foal out of the unraced Noonmark mare Sliced Bread. She is a half-sister to Red Chili Pepper, who earned more than $1.8 million in Japan, and five other $100,000-plus earners, but the pedigree certainly tilts toward sprint.
I really like the visuals of his training leading up to the San Felipe, and although I have questions about his eventual future as a top-class router, that doesn’t mean he can’t win this spring tilt restricted to 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
Aquila has taken solid steps forward in three career starts, but unlike Kanthaka, he’s already proven around two bends. Purchased for $685,000 at a 2-year-olds in training sale, he’s by Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags out of the Grade 2-winning Mr. Greeley mare Sangrita, making him a half-brother to $535,640 earner Tequilita. The dam’s side of the pedigree is mostly sprint, but there is certainly stamina infusion from the sire.
A grinding type, I like the way Aquila responded once challenged in the recent maiden breaker, and the gallop out hinted at a horse who will handle more ground successfully.
4. What about the Tampa Bay Derby and the Gotham Stakes?
Joe’s answer: The results of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes didn’t excite me, so my first inclination in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is to stay away from Flameaway and the newly blinkered Vino Rosso.
I’m not sold on Untamed Domain as a dirt horse, particularly over the deep and sandy surface that he’ll face on Saturday.
World of Trouble around two turns? Maybe he can run this field off their feet, but as a Kentucky Derby prospect, no thank you.
Tiz Mischief did finish a willing, yet distant, third in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, but the top two – Audible and Free Drop Billy – are in my top five overall. He’s the kind of grinder who may take to Tampa.
I liked Quip last year, and he’s trained well at Fair Grounds in advance of his 3-year-old debut. The outside post doesn’t make his task any easier.
As far as the one-turn mile Gotham goes, I thought scratching Free Drop Billy from last week’s Grade 2 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes was a curious decision, but as it turned out, trainer Dale Romans won the race with Promises Fulfilled.
The Albaugh Family Stables won last year’s Gotham with J Boys Echo and, although I like the prospects for Free Drop Billy to succeed over distance, he’s proven to be formidable around one turn.
The race suits Firenze Fire, who only needs to run third to most likely secure a place in Kentucky Derby starting gate. Enticed was predictably disappointing as the Holy Bull favorite, but he fits well here.
5. Who wins the San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby and Gotham?
Joe’s San Felipe picks: 1. Kanthaka 2. McKinzie 3. Bolt d’Oro 4. Aquila
Joe’s Tampa Bay Derby picks: 1. Tiz Mischief 2. Vino Rosso 3. Flameaway 4. World of Trouble
Joe’s Gotham picks: 1. Free Drop Billy 2. Firenze Fire 3. Enticed 4. Beautiful Shot