April 14, 2024

Gift Box faces seven in Big ‘Cap title defense; Got Stormy invades for Kilroe Mile

Hronis Racing's Gift Box (green silks) edged McKinzie by a nose in the 2019 Santa Anita Handicap © BENOIT PHOTO

Gift Box tuned up for the 83rd running of the $600,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) with a sharp 3 3/4-length score in the Dec. 28 San Antonio (G2), and the 7-year-old will attempt to become only the fifth horse to win consecutive editions of the prestigious “hundred grander” when he squares off against seven rivals on Saturday.

Kentucky Derby contenders will square off in the $400,000 San Felipe (G2), and the Big ‘Cap is one of five stakes on a blockbuster 11-race program.

Last year’s edition featured a thrilling stretch battle between Gift Box and McKinzie, with Gift Box prevailing by a nose. The gray son of Twirling Candy has captured 3-of-4 starts at Santa Anita, the lone setback being a close second to eventual champion Vino Rosso in the 2019 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), and Gift Box registered an outstanding 108 Brisnet Speed rating last out. Joel Rosario rides for John Sadler, who took the 2018 Big ‘Cap with Accelerate and will try to become the first trainer ever to win three straight runnings.

Midcourt is the main challenger. A facile wire-to-wire scorer in the Feb. 1 San Pasqual (G2), the speedy 5-year-old gelding has won five of his last six starts for John Shirreffs, netting a career-best 106 Speed rating last time. Victor Espinoza will guide the son of Midnight Lute.

Stakes victor Hofburg may have needed a race when returning from a lengthy layoff against graded foes at Fair Grounds last time, and will try to rebound with Flavien Prat up for Bill Mott. The 5-year-old son of Tapit ships in along with stakes-placed Endorsed, who recorded a convincing allowance triumph at Gulfstream recently. It marked his first start since a rallying fourth in the Travers (G1), and Drayden Van Dyke picks up the mount for Kiaran McLaughlin.

Earlier on the card, Got Stormy will look to upend male rivals as the probable favorite in the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1). She ran two huge races last fall in Southern California, finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Santa Anita and winning the Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar, and the classy 5-year-old mare has earned more than $1.4 million. She will need to bounce back after a puzzling fourth as the 1-5 choice in the Feb. 8 Endeavour (G3) at Tampa, but it’s encouraging to see Mark Casse wheel Got Stormy back four weeks later. Regular rider Tyler Gaffalione has the assignment.

Nine will challenge Got Stormy including Ohio, who will defend his crown after notching a 9-1 upset in the 2019 Kilroe. The 9-year-old gelding exits a repeat win in the Jan. 11 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile at Turf Paradise. River Boyne enters in good form, drawing off to a 2 1/2-length tally in the Feb. 8 Thunder Road (G3), and third-placer True Valour also returns.

Other runners include San Gabriel (G2) winner Desert Stone; Next Shares, who captured the Seabiscuit (G2) at Del Mar two back; and Frontier Market, who will try to rebound after a fifth as the favorite in the Thunder Road.

The stakes action kicks off with the $200,000 San Carlos (G2), and St. Joe Bay will make his first appearance since recording a three-length upset in the 7-furlong event 12 months ago. Prat guides the 8-year-old, one of two for Sadler in the six-horse field along with Flagstaff. The latter rates as a serious contender following a nose second as the odds-on favorite in the Jan. 25 Palos Verdes (G2).

Grade 1 winner Roadster, second in the 7-furlong Malibu (G1) two back, will cut back in distance for Bob Baffert, who will also send out recent allowance scorer McKale.

The $75,000 China Doll S. shapes up to be a competitive event, with a full field of 14 sophomore fillies contesting the one-mile turf affair.