Traditionally, Santa Anita’s San Antonio Stakes (GII) had served as a prep race for the track’s signature event, the Santa Anita Handicap (GI), which is contested every year in early March. For decades, horses with their eyes on the Big ‘Cap prize would line up in early February to race the San Antonio’s 8 ½ furlongs and earn a ticket to the big dance. Names like Round Table, Gun Bow, Hill Rise, Ack Ack, Ancient Title, Vigors, Criminal Type, Farma Way, Gentlemen, Game on Dude and Hopportunity took home the San Antonio trophy, many en route to Santa Anita Handicap success and even greater glory.
This year, the San Antonio has been moved back a few weeks on the track’s racing calendar to sit on the prestigious opening-day card and, while it may not be a signature prep for the Big ‘Cap anymore, it’s more than made up for that loss by serving as the West Coast’s main prep for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (GI), set to be held on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park. The connections of at least two of the six runners in this year’s San Antonio are eyeing the world’s richest horse race, so a top performance is essential if they’re going to risk $1 million to make the Pegasus World Cup gate.
Hoppertunity, who won the last two runnings of the San Antonio, is back seeking a third and will have his work cut out for him, especially against stablemate and Grade 1 winner Collected, as well as the most well-known upset winner in recent memory in Accelerate.
The race has been carded as the day’s third, with a post time of 1:00 p.m. PT. The southern California weather has been colder than normal for this time of year, but the skies are expected to remain clear and the afternoon highs are expected to reach near 70.
Speedway Stables’ Collected had what can only be described as a standout year in 2017, despite starting out the season in the shadow of Arrogate. The Bob Baffert trainee opened the year with a stakes win in the Santana Mile in April, then continued picking the victories up — first, the Californian Stakes (GII), then the Precisionist Stakes (GII) and then the upset of Arrogate in the Pacific Classic (GI). Though he didn’t win the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), he was a strong second to Gun Runner that day. The flashy chestnut son of City Zip has been training well over his favorite track (he’s never lost in four starts at Santa Anita) and picks up the services of Baffert’s go-to rider Mike Smith for the first time.
Overall his Brisnet speed, pace and class numbers are the highest in this field and regularly in the triple digits. And while he’s shown he likes to control the pace, he has also shown he has some tactical ability and can rate right behind the speed if necessary. A win here is probably the clincher for his connections to decide if he’ll make the gate for the Pegasus World Cup.
The always handsome fan favorite Hoppertunity is also back over his favorite track (14-4-5-2) and will be making his third start after a summer vacation, meaning he’s probably fit again and in a prime spot to get back to the winner’s circle. The highly consistent son of Any Given Saturday doesn’t win often, but he’s usually counted on to pick up a decent check, and while he’s probably a little below the top of this division talent-wise, the soon-to-be-7-year-old fits well in this spot and has earned $4.3 million the honest way. He can be counted on to earn Brisnet speed figures of at least 100 and, as a later runner, will certainly like the anticipated quick early pace. Jockey Flavien Prat is back aboard the Pegram, Watson and Weitman colorbearer and the pair will lead the field to post. His best is certainly good enough for a win.
For a couple of seasons, Hronis Racing’s Accelerate, who was third in this race a year ago, kind of bounced around in the handicap/mile divisions lower-level stakes races — until the addition of blinkers and a struggling Arrogate helped him put his name on the map with a win in the San Diego Handicap (GII) this past summer.
Unfortunately, that effort, in hindsight, looks like a combination of a little luck and a peak performance, but now he’s back at better suited to his talent. While a mile is probably his best distance, the John Sadler trainee has one win at 1 1/16 miles and though Santa Anita is “home” for him, he has yet to earn a win in seven tries here. Javier Castellano, in town for opening day, will ride the John Sadler trainee and it’s a good bet he’ll be sending from post position five and the speedy Collected to his outside.
The Jim Cassidy-trained Prime Attraction ran the race of his life to win the Native Diver Stakes (GIII) by two lengths at Del Mar last out, earning himself a huge 112 Brisnet speed rating. That performance alone would make him the one to beat here, but the problem is the effort was so much better than anything he’d ever shown before that one has to wonder if a bounce against much tougher competition is in order. He has one win at this distance and one win in six tries over Santa Anita’s main track, but the fact that he’s really unpredictable makes it hard to back him with a ton of confidence in here.
Top of the Game is a nice allowance/non-graded stakes type making a logical progression into graded stakes company. He seems to have the ability to pick up a larger share of the pie.
Pat O’Brien Stakes (GII) winner Giant Expectations may prefer a shorter distance, but he does have a nice series of works heading into this race, even though he’s never won in seven starts here.