July 14, 2024

Santa Anita Handicap headlines Grade 1 trifecta

Shaman Ghost winning the 2016 Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

Nine runners will line up on Saturday to go 1 1/4 miles in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1), one of three Grade 1 contests that share top billing with the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2).

The San Felipe features Kentucky Derby (G1) hopefuls Mastery, Gormley and Liliad, just to name a few, and is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series of points races.

But after the three-year-old action is done and over with, the older horses will get their turn in the spot light.

The Big ‘Cap has attracted Shaman Ghost and Midnight Storm, and is the penultimate contest on an 11-race card Saturday.

Shaman Ghost is the biggest draw in the Santa Anita Handicap, running second behind Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) last out to make his five-year-old bow and third in last November’s Clark Handicap (G1) to cap off his 2016 campaign. The Jimmy Jerkens trainee boasted two wins last season, taking the Woodward Stakes (G1) and Brooklyn Stakes (G2), and also captured the 2015 Queen’s Plate to become that year’s Canadian champion three-year-old.

Shaman Ghost was piloted in the Woodward by Javier Castellano and that jockey returns to the saddle aboard the bay son of Ghostzapper for the Big ‘Cap.

Midnight Storm is probably Shaman Ghost’s biggest rival in the Santa Anita Handicap. The six-year-old dark bay has won five of his last six races for trainer Philip D’Amato, including the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) to open 2017 and the Native Diver Stakes (G3) to close out his five-year-old season. Those two races are also the first main track contests the Pioneerof the Nile horse has competed in since a well-beaten 10th in the 2015 Pacific Classic (G1).

The only blemish from Midnight Storm’s past six starts came as a nice third behind Tourist and Tepin in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). He’s earned triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in his past pair and keeps regular rider Rafael Bejarano aboard for this first try in the Big ‘Cap.

Also of note in the Santa Anita Handicap are Grade 1 winner Hard Aces and Grade 2 scorer Imperative, who were the respective runner-up and fourth-place finisher in last year’s Big ‘Cap.

Next up on Santa Anita’s Grade 1 triple Saturday will be the $400,000 Triple Bend Handicap (G1). The seven-furlong sprint attracted a field of seven, including Masochistic and Kobe’s Back.

Masochistic was the 8-5 favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and wound up finishing second before being disqualified to seventh. The Ron Ellis-trained seven-year-old is the 2015 winner of the Triple Bend, having romped by 3 1/2 lengths, and shows multiple triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings to his credit. Mike Smith was aboard for the Breeders’ Cup and rides the Sought After gelding in his 2017 debut.

Kobe’s Back is returning in this spot off a third in the Triple Bend, which took place on June 25 last year. The multiple Grade 2-winning son of Flatter is 7-3-2-1 at Santa Anita and 11-3-2-3 at the distance for trainer Peter Eurton. Castellano takes the mount for the first time.

A field of seven will line up in the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) one race before the Big ‘Cap. The one-mile turf affair has attracted Bolo and What a View, who were separated by only a head in the Arcadia Stakes (G2) over course and distance on February 11.

The duo met up in last year’s Kilroe as well, with What a View wiring the contest by 3 3/4 lengths over Bolo in second. Bolo successfully defended his title in the Arcadia last out, so it remains to be seen if What a View can do the same in this spot. Smith rides Bolo for conditioner Carla Gaines while Tyler Baze has the call on What a View for trainer Kenneth Black.

Also showing back up from the Arcadia are Conquest Enforcer and Ring Weekend, the respective third- and fourth-place finishers in the race.

But the biggest surprise in the race is Dortmund, who makes his turf bow in this spot after finishing fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). That was also his last start for trainer Bob Baffert, as the five-year-old will be saddled by Art Sherman on Saturday.

Dortmund captured the 2015 Santa Anita Derby (G1) en route to a third-place run behind Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and fourth-place effort in the Preakness Stakes (G1). The Big Brown chestnut’s last win came in the 2015 Native Diver Stakes (G3) to close out his sophomore season, though he did place in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again Stakes (G1) in two of his four runs last year. Victor Espinoza has piloting duties for the first time.

Brazilian Horse of the Year Bal a Bali, third in last year’s Kilroe Mile, and dual Grade 2 winner Flamboyant complete the Frank E. Kilroe Mile field.