Saturday’s $650,000, Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by Yaamava’ Resort & Casino is an important early-season test at Santa Anita Park for older horses on the road to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Oct. 5 at Keeneland.
The 1 ¼-mile Big ’Cap is one of the most prestigious races in California and has been since it was first held in 1935, with winners including Seabiscuit, Round Table, Hill Rise, Nodouble, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry (twice), Alysheba, Best Pal, Tiznow, Lava Man (twice), Game On Dude (three times), Shared Belief, and Accelerate.
Join 1/ST Racing for the 1/ST SATURDAY on March 5, 2022, featuring 15 stakes races between Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park. In addition to the Santa Anita Handicap, Fountain of Youth Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, and Davona Dale Stakes, check out these other great wagering benefits from 1/ST:
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Read on for information on all eight Big ’Cap starters.
1. Spielberg (8-1 morning line odds)
Jockey: Abel Cedillo
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Career record: 11 starts – 3 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $475,900
Earnings per start: $43,264
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103
Pedigree: Union Rags – Miss Squeal, by Smart Strike
Running style: Stalker/closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Spielberg was one of the most highly regarded 2-year-olds on the California circuit a year and a half ago, when he finished in the top three in two Grade 1 stakes and closed out 2020 with a nose win in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. It’s fair to say that he peaked early, though, as he’s only won one of five starts since then and was removed from the Triple Crown trail after finishing a well-beaten eighth in last year’s Curlin Florida Derby. Spielberg has performed respectably in his two starts so far at age 4, winning a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Santa Anita on Jan. 14 and then running fourth behind Express Train in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes on Feb. 22. Overall, this $1 million dollar purchase appears best-suited to racing at distances a mile or shorter, and as such he should be a longshot in Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile Big ’Cap. Trainer Bob Baffert has won this race five times: General Challenge (2000); Misremembered (2010); and with front-running Game On Dude in 2011, 2013, and 2014.
2. Why Why Paul Why (6-1)
Jockey: Juan Hernandez
Trainer: Michael McCarthy
Owner: JKX Racing
Career record: 19 starts – 6 wins – 5 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $196,178
Earnings per start: $10,325
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108
Pedigree: Archarcharch – Precious Beauty, by Whywhywhy
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This mysteriously-named horse (who is Paul, and what did he do to cause such distress?) is also an intriguing lunch-pail longshot contender in the Big ’Cap. He makes his first start in California for new trainer Mike McCarthy after racking up five wins in seven starts for trainer Penny Pearce on the East Coast. Those wins came after Why Why Paul Why was claimed out of a race at Churchill Downs in May 2021 when he finished sixth, and it’s fair to say he validated that decision and then some as his five subsequent wins – all at Parx Racing in races at a mile or longer – were by a combined 24 ½ lengths. His most recent victory came in the listed Kris Kringle Stakes at Parx, where he earned a 108 Equibase Speed Figure, and he followed that with a good second-place effort in the Jazil Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 22 (104 figure) before moving to the West Coast. Why Why Paul Why is stepping up in class – big-time – but his recent speed figures are competitive with most of his Santa Anita Handicap foes and Juan Hernandez, currently ranked second in wins and earnings among jockeys at Santa Anita, picks up the mount. He prefers to race on or near the early lead, so expect him to be a pace factor at the very least. Hernandez rode Express Train to a runner-up finish in in last year’s Big ’Cap, and McCarthy-trained Independence Hall finished fourth.
3. Warrant (4-1)
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: Brad Cox
Owner: Twin Creeks Racing Stables
Career record: 8 starts – 3 wins – 3 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $649,700
Earnings per start: $81,213
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101
Pedigree: Constitution – Whisper Number, by First Samurai
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Warrant comes into Saturday’s race as an accomplished, lightly raced colt with plenty of upside. He did not race at age 2 and broke his maiden in his second 2021 start and was then patiently developed by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox over the spring and summer, eventually winning both the Texas Derby at Lone Star Park and the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park (he also finished second in two other stakes races). In his first start at age 4, he was outclassed by both Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon but finished a clear third in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 22. There don’t appear to be any horses comparable with those two runners in the Big ’Cap with the possible exception of Express Train, which means Warrant has a chance to score a top-level win if he can summon a career-best effort. He’s a must use in exacta and trifecta tickets with Santa Anita’s leading rider Flavien Prat getting aboard for the first time. Prat finished fourth in last year’s edition aboard Independence Hall.
4. Soy Tapatio (20-1)
Jockey: Diego Herrera
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Owner: Mercado Racing
Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $101,480
Earnings per start: $16,913
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106
Pedigree: Not This Time – Rum Punch, by Street Hero
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Another intriguing contender, this gelded son of hot, young sire Not This Time makes his stakes debut in a historic Grade 1 event Saturday after posting back-to-back wins in 1 1/16-mile races at Santa Anita over the past couple of months. Soy Tapatio did not make his career debut until November of last year and went winless in four quick starts to close out 2021, but he came back to break his maiden by 6 ¼ lengths on Jan. 8 and then post a one-length win in an allowance-optional claiming race just 15 days ago on Feb. 18. The quick turnaround is a sign of confidence from trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Mercado Racing, and an acknowledgment that this year’s Big ’Cap lineup might not be exactly world-beating. Diego Herrera has been in the irons for both of Soy Tapatio’s wins, and it will be interesting to see how the 17-year-old apprentice rides him Saturday, as the gelding broke his maiden in front-running fashion but won his allowance with an off-the-pace rally that netted a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure. O’Neill won back-to-back Big ’Caps in 2006 and 2007 with California-bred claimer-turned-powerhouse Lava Man.
5. American Theorem (12-1)
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: George Papaprodromou
Owner: Kretz Racing
Career record: 8 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $169,267
Earnings per start: $21,258
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110
Pedigree: American Pharoah – Mighty Renee, by Maria’s Mon
Color: Gray or roan
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: American Theorem figures to be one of the higher-odds horses in Saturday’s Big ’Cap coming off of a last-place effort in the Feb. 5 Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita, where he finished 13 ¼ lengths behind Express Train. In his defense, he encountered significant traffic trouble on the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual, losing momentum twice as other horses, including Express Train, moved in front of him to secure tactical position. In his start prior to the San Pasqual, he led from start to finish in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Santa Anita on Jan. 2, winning by 2 ¼ lengths under Smith. Look for “Big Money Mike” to put his mount into the race early and try to avoid any crowding. If he can get a clean trip, American Theorem could hang around long enough to fill out the superfecta or possibly trifecta, but that appears to be his ceiling. He is also entered in the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes Presented by FanDuel earlier on Santa Anita’s March 5 card, and may start in that seven-furlong race instead. Smith won the Santa Anita Handicap three years in a row: 2013 and 2014 aboard Game On Dude and 2015 on Shared Belief.
6. Express Train (8-5)
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Owner: C R K Stable
Career record: 16 starts – 6 wins – 4 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $935,800
Earnings per start: $58,488
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110
Pedigree: Union Rags – I’m a Flake, by Mineshaft
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Express Train is a deserving favorite in the 2022 Santa Anita Handicap based on a career résumé that includes four Grade 2 victories. Two of those came in his starts leading up to Saturday’s race: a game nose win over top-class Hot Rod Charlie in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Dec. 26, when he overcame early crowding, and a dominant 3 ¼-length score in the San Pasqual Stakes on Feb. 22. In 2021, he won three of eight starts – two of them Grade 2 stakes – and came a half-length short of winning last year’s Santa Anita Handicap, taking a clear lead into the stretch but yielding to Idol. He sports a career record of three wins, three seconds, and two thirds in nine Santa Anita starts on the main track and, aside from a puzzling sixth-place finish as the favorite in last year’s TVG Pacific Classic, he’s hit the board in all of his appearances since making an unsuccessful turf start in October 2020. Express Train does have a habit of getting into trouble early in his races, but he’s also shown the ability to overcome that adversity and he’s matched up well with Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode him for the first time in January’s San Antonio and has kept the mount since. Look for him to sit off of the early leaders on the backstretch while racing two or three wide before he makes a bid for the lead on the far turn. Espinoza won the 2004 Big ’Cap on Southern Image and won again in 2018 on Accelerate.
7. Kiss Today Goodbye (15-1)
Jockey: Kyle Frey
Trainer: Eric Kruljac
Owner: John Sondereker
Career record: 17 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $306,302
Earnings per start: $18,018
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109
Pedigree: Cairo Prince – Savvy Hester, by Heatseeker
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: After a successful 3-year-old season in 2020 highlighted by a win in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes, Kiss Today Goodbye has struggled to make much of an impression over the past 14 months, going winless in five starts at age 4 and finishing a non-threatening fifth of six in the Feb. 5 San Pasqual Stakes, defeated 7 ¼ lengths by Express Train. He finished second by a half-length to Azul Coast in the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar last November, but truthfully that’s been his only quality start over the time period, as he’s been walloped by open lengths in every other race and was eased when trying for a repeat win in the San Antonio Dec. 26. This horse is a grinder who is a threat to hit the board with a late rally when he’s at his best … but those efforts have been hard to find recently. It would be a surprise to see him in the mix Saturday, even competing against a modestly accomplished field.
8. Stilleto Boy (5-2)
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Ed Moger Jr.
Owner: Steve Moger
Career record: 13 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 5 thirds
Career earnings: $833,175
Earnings per start: $64,090
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 117
Pedigree: Shackleford – Rosie’s Ransom, by Marquetry
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Stilleto Boy shapes up as the main challenger to Express Train in the Big ’Cap as he ships back to his West Coast base after running a competitive third in the lucrative Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park. In the Pegasus, he was never a threat to front-running winner Life Is Good (nor was any other horse), but he did loom up to challenge Knicks Go for runner-up honors in the stretch before losing that spot to the 2021 Horse of the Year by a length. Prior to the Pegasus, Stilleto Boy ran in three consecutive Grade 1s in California, finishing second to Medina Spirit in the Awesome Again Stakes in October, fifth behind Knicks Go in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic in November, and then third to the now-sidelined speedball Flightline in the seven-furlong Runhappy Malibu Stakes on Santa Anita’s Dec. 26 opening-day card. Truth be told, Stilleto Boy was soundly defeated in all three of those races, and he was in the Pegasus as well. On the positive side, there is no superstar entered in Saturday’s Big ’Cap, which equates to a dose of class relief for this son of Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, and the 117 Equibase Speed Figure he earned in the Pegasus five weeks ago is tops in the field. He’s a pick-up-the-pieces, hard-trying type who should benefit from getting Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard. As such, Stilleto Boy is a logical horse to use in exacta and trifecta boxes with Express Train and a longshot or two.