San Vicente Runners Look to Return Race Status as Legit Derby Prep

In years past, the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita was considered an important stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby (GI). Even though 2016’s winner, Nyquist, went on to win in Louisville, the race has still kind of become an afterthought. Iliad won a year ago to make it two straight for trainer Doug O’Neill, but, after a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), his career was over and the race was again left without a winner to make an impact on the first Saturday in May.

Maybe it’s because of the seven-furlong distance or maybe because of its date on the calendar, regardless it’s hard to overlook the slew of good horses who have won the San Vicente Stakes in years past.

In addition to Nyquist, other notable San Vicente champs include Kentucky Derby heroes Hill Gail, Swaps, Lucky Debonair, Majestic Prince and Silver Charm, as well as a host of other graded stakes winners and champions. This year, six are set to head to the gate for the winner’s share of the $200,000 purse and all but one will be making their graded stakes debuts. No Derby points are on the line, but the race serves as a solid prep for the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (GII) and then the Santa Anita Derby a month later.

The warm weather that’s been in the area for several days is expected to cool a little by post time with the afternoon high reaching the upper 60s. No rain is expected.

Ax Man (photo via Benoit Photography).

Ax Man (photo via Benoit Photography).

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has saddled the winner of this race a record nine times and sends out a pair here, including the favored Ax Man coming off a 9 ½-length romp in his debut on New Year’s Day. While the Hal and Patti Earnhardt homebred son of Misremembered is light on experience, he seems long on talent and potential ability to get better as the distances stretch out. His debut Brisnet speed figure of 101 is among the best in the country for a three-year-old and he’s been working holes in the wind for the past month. Drayden VanDyke has become one of Baffert’s new go-to riders and he’ll be back aboard and it’s a pretty good bet he’ll ask his mount to go for the lead from their innermost post. The extra furlong off his maiden win should be little trouble.

Kaleem Shah’s All Out Blitz cuts back a furlong after a runner-up finish to McKinzie in the Sham Stakes (GIII) a month ago, which is probably a smart choice for the son of Concord Point. He set all the pace last out only to be run down by the winner, who is more suited to the two turns, but still gutted it out for runner-up honors. He’s improved with each start, numbers-wise, and his last Brisnet fig of 99 is certainly good enough here. He will have company on the lead, so he’ll not likely get a moderate early pace like last time, but if he rates just off the leaders and has any kick at the end he’ll be tough. Tyler Baze returns for the third time for the colt’s fifth career start. However, he is not Triple Crown nominated.

Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and West Point Thoroughbreds send out the recent maiden winner Kanthaka in his first start against winners. The $140,000 son of Jimmy Creed broke his maiden in his second start from well off the pace, so it’s a good bet he’ll like the predicted quick early pace in front of him early. He’s been of for six weeks, but has been training well and working regularly at Santa Anita since his opening day score. The added furlong seems right up his alley and though jockey Flavien Prat will be aboard for the first time, there’s no question he knows how to successfully navigate the Santa Anita main track. A long look in the paddock may be the deciding factor before heading to the windows, but he’ll probably offer some value.

Kris’ Rocket Cat also faces winners for the first time and adds a sixteenth of a mile in his stakes debut. The Richard Baltas-trained son of Eskendereya hasn’t raced in nearly two months, but he’s been training regularly even if he’s not exactly burning up the surface in the mornings. Rafael Bejarano, who could have ridden at least two others in here, stick and the outermost post is perfect for this confirmed stalker.

Jockey Victor Espinoza hasn’t been seen on a whole lot of Bob Baffert-trained runners since they teamed up to make history with American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run in 2015, yet here he is back aboard another talented son of Pioneerof the Nile in Nero. Also now a Hall of Famer, Espinoza was aboard Nero when he broke his maiden win a month ago and is back today. We know this colt can probably get the distance, likely wanting even more, and he’s put up some eye-popping works in the mornings. We’ve all heard we should “bet the other Baffert” and this may be a perfect time to test that theory out.

Mr. Jagermeister was a standout stakes runner in his native Minnesota (he’s a Minnesota-bred son of Atta Boy Roy) and earned a huge 104 figure when finishing second in a state-bred stakes last out and while this is quite a jump in class, his best seems logical at a good price.

The San Vicente is the day’s sixth race and will leave the gate at 2:30 p.m. PT.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.