The Derby trail makes a big return to California this week with the San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.
As we noted yesterday, we thought the best prep race run so far was the Sham in January, but the principals from that race skipped last month’s Lewis Stakes. Today, Gormley is back and faces a strong field including Los Alamitos Futurity winner Mastery. (American Anthem, runner-up to Gormley, is off to the Rebel next week.)
(Also on Saturday is the Tamp Bay Derby and our preview can be found here).
Let’s go through this San Felipe Field.
1 – Term of Art – He was fourth in the weaker Lewis last month behind Rebel-bound Royal Mo, who set a moderate pace and wired the field. Still, Term of Art didn’t really do much running in that race and none of his other races are remotely good enough. We prefer others.
2 – Vending Machine – He last ran on synthetic in the California Derby won by So Conflated (who was sixth in the Gotham last week) and though Vending Machine may not have handled the surface, he’s another who does not have strong enough dirt form to contend. While he was on the lead last time, we expect he stalks the pace today.
3 – Ann Arbor Eddie – Another Doug O’Neill runner, he comes out of a second place finish (to a 48-1 shot) in the El Camino Real Derby. He has some positional speed but has been competing in slower paced dirt races against Cal-breds (his two and three-back races). This is a major step up.
4 – Mastery – The main contenders are drawn right in the middle of this field. Mastery is 3-3 including two stakes wins, the Bob Hope going seven furlongs and the Los Alamitos Futurity going 8.5 furlongs on December 10th. He’s a speed horse that has been in some slower-paced races (especially the Bob Hope but also the Los Al Futurity). Last time, he beat Irap by 7 1/4 lengths. Irap has since been a non-threatening second in the weaker Lewis and was beaten at even-month at Sunland on February 26th. There’s been a lot of workout buzz about Mastery as well, so I think he will be the slight favorite. In a multi-race wager you must use him, but we’ll take a small shot against.
5 – Gormley – We really liked his race last time in the Sham. He had to chase American Anthem through fast fractions, and then moved and out-finished that one at the wire. He won on debut for John Sherrifs, whose runners almost never win first out, and then wired the Grade 1 Frontrunner through slow fractions. After that race, it was fair to be a little suspicious, but he came out of seventh place finish in the Breeders Cup Juvenile with a legitimate win in the Sham.
6 – Iliad – Doug O’Neill’s third runner (Term of Art and Ann Arbor Eddie) has the best chance of the group. The San Vicente winner stretches out from seven furlongs for this race. His San Vicente was very good too. Three horses were on the pace (of five). Two finished fourth and fifth and Iliad won the race, drawing off in the lane, and earned a 96 Beyer. He’s by Ghostzapper, so this distance of 8.5 furlongs shouldn’t be a problem either. The question is: can he clear off and deal with the pressure from the others in his first route start? It seems a lot to ask him to stalk the pace and then outfinish the more experience route runners to his inside, so sending is likely the best strategy, but he’ll be under pressure either way.
7 – Bluegrass Envy – This five-start maiden has never run a Beyer faster than 61 and would be a massive surprise.
The Pace – The pace should be pretty solid with Iliad, Gormley, and Mastery all possessing good speed. Iliad is probably the fastest, so he should be able to clear off if aggressively handled by Flavien Prat.
Analysis – We’ll let Mastery beat us as the likely favorite and Iliad has drawn a tough spot for his route debut. Our pick is Gormley, who will probably sit third behind the pace. We liked his last race and will take him to win right back.
The Play – There’s not a lot to do within the race, considering the three favorites look like they are much the best. If Gormley is at least 2-1, we could bet him to win and will also probably play a cold exacta Gormley over Iliad.