September 26, 2020

United tops Whittingham; Wildman Jack part of O’Neill duo in Daytona

United (right) edges Cleopatra's Strike (center) and Oscar Dominguez in the San Marcos © BENOIT PHOTO

After posting neck seconds in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), United broke through with a half-length score in the Feb. 1 San Marcos (G2), and the 5-year-old gelding will seek his second consecutive graded win when he lines up for Saturday’s $200,000 Charles Whittingham (G2). The 1 1/4-mile affair is one of two graded stakes on Santa Anita’s turf along with the $100,000 Daytona (G3).

A Richard Mandella-trained son of Giant’s Causeway, United was targeting the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) in late March before it was canceled.  The chestnut packs a late punch, but has shown the ability to race closer when necessary, nearly upsetting the Breeders’ Cup Turf at 51-1 odds and taking the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos as the odds-on favorite.

United finished second when making his stakes debut in last year’s Whittingham, and he should be a prohibitive choice among seven rivals on Saturday. Flavien Prat has the call.

Rockemperor, third in the March 21 Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds, invades from the East Coast for Chad Brown. Third when making his U.S. debut in the Belmont Derby (G1) last summer, the 4-year-old colt is eligible to improve in his second start back from a long layoff. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in to ride.

Multiple Grade 2 runner-up Originaire returns to stakes competition following a sharp 5 1/4-length tally over allowance foes that netted him a 100 Brisnet Speed rating, and Umberto Rispoli retains the assignment for Jeff Mullins. Desert Stone, who captured the San Gabriel (G2) two back, is also part of the mix for Richard Baltas. Abel Cedillo will be up.

In the 5 1/2-furlong Daytona, Wildman Jack will try to carry his form forward after posting a 4 3/4-length decision in the March 7 Nad Al Sheba Turf Spring (G3) at Meydan. That marked the first graded attempt for the 4-year-old, who was being pointed towards the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in late March before it was canceled.

Wildman Jack owns experience over the Santa Anita turf, and the up-and-coming gelding is one of two in the seven-horse field for Doug O’Neill. Mike Smith takes over the reins. Stubbins will make his first appearance for O’Neill since a fast-closing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Winner of the Woodford (G2) at Keeneland two back, the 4-year-old colt will be running late with Rispoli.

Texas Wedge will put a two-race win streak on the line for Mullins, winning the Joe Fernandez (G2) at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day and the Jan. 25 World of Trouble at Gulfstream most recently. He was also forced to miss a planned start in the Al Quoz Sprint, and the 5-year-old gelding could be a major player in this spot with Prat.