Five things to know for 2018 San Felipe

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 9th, 2018


It’s the Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race of the season so far, a clash of heavyweights Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie in Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. You could call it the battle for West Coast supremacy, but that would actually undersell its significance.

With the letdown of divisional champion Good Magic’s loss in last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Bolt d’Oro overtook him in the number 1 spot on the NTRA poll. McKinzie is nipping at his heels on that list, while attracting no shortage of support in Las Vegas.

The San Felipe showdown therefore has great bearing on early Kentucky Derby favoritism, especially as it takes place in the midst of Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Bolt d’Oro opens as the tepid 6-1 morning-line choice among the individual interests, and a joint favorite with the mutuel field of “All Others.” Will Bolt d’Oro shore up his precarious position? Or will McKinzie, the co-second choice at 8-1, overtake him on the track and in the Future Wager?

Here are my five things to know for the San Felipe, worth Derby points on the 50-20-10-5 scale:

1. Bolt d’Oro faces a fitness test off the four-month layoff. Like Good Magic a week ago, Bolt d’Oro returns for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Unlike Good Magic, who was always looking at the Fountain of Youth as his comeback spot, Bolt d’Oro had a well-publicized hiccup at the turn of the year that ruled him out of the February 10 San Vicente (G2). It was reportedly no more than a muscle tweak, owner/trainer Mick Ruis got him back on the worktab January 27, and he hasn’t missed a beat since. Still, any bump on the road isn’t helpful, and it would be understandable if he needs this race to bring him on for the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Ruis’ temporary wavering about whether to run if the track is sloppy, or scratch in favor of next Saturday’s Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn, also opens the door to questions. (Blood-Horse’s Jeremy Balan reported Ruis’ initial concern, and Art Wilson reported his resolution to run in the San Felipe regardless.)

On the other hand, a more positive contrast with Good Magic is Bolt d’Oro’s standing prior to his third-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup. An unbeaten winner of the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1), the latter at the San Felipe distance of 1 1/16 miles, he was the 3-5 favorite to clinch a championship in the Juvenile. But a brutally wide trip from post 11, covering a ridiculous 78 feet more than Good Magic (per Trakus), cost him his perfect record and an Eclipse Award. And it cost Corey Nakatani the ride. Bolt d’Oro gets a rider change to Javier Castellano for the San Felipe. His natural talent could outweigh the race-fitness question if it weren’t for the next horse on the list…

2. Bob Baffert’s highly regarded McKinzie looks to follow up on his breakout performance in the Sham (G3). The latest hot commodity for Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, he was named as a posthumous tribute to their great friend Brad McKinzie of Los Alamitos. The son of 2007 Derby champion Street Sense has lived up to that lofty expectation.

After romping in a seven-furlong maiden in his October 28 debut, McKinzie was sent off as the 1-2 favorite to earn a poignant victory in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). But he raced a bit too keenly for his own good in that two-turn debut, and he was outfinished by more experienced stablemate Solomini (the runner-up in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and FrontRunner). Thanks to Solomini’s wandering in the stretch, though, the stewards conducted an inquiry and controversially disqualified him for interference. McKinzie was awarded the victory, preserving his unbeaten record on a technicality.

The January 6 Sham marked another stage in his development. Taking the blinkers off for the first time, a relaxed McKinzie flaunted his class against a handful of overmatched foes, including subsequent Southwest (G3) upsetter My Boy Jack. Baffert saw what he needed to see, and accordingly declared that McKinzie would be freshened up for a two-prep schedule.

3. San Vicente winner Kanthaka opts to take his route test in a tough spot. Initially penciled in for Saturday’s Gotham (G3) around a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee is entering the lions’ den now rather than later. As a son of 2012 Malibu (G1) hero Jimmy Creed and a Noonmark mare, Kanthaka doesn’t have a pedigree that shouts Derby contender. He could find 1 1/16 miles within his compass, since it isn’t exactly a rigorous stamina test, but the other key question is one of pace. The West Point runner has enjoyed the set-up of a scorching pace in his sprint starts. How will he react to the more measured tempo of a route race against two of the best sophomores around? Sure, there are a few potential pace factors in here, but none figures to reel off a :44-and-change half. Jockey Flavien Prat has voted for Kanthaka in preference to the upset winner he rode in the last Santa Anita points race…

4. The February 3 Robert B. Lewis (G3), widely dismissed as a weak prep, has its work cut out to overturn the verdict. Lombo sprang an 8-1 wire job in the Lewis, under a well-judged Prat ride in an uninspiring time. New rider Rafael Bejarano can get a similar tune out of him, if it weren’t for the fact that the San Felipe is a vastly stiffer task. In light of how Lombo was slowing late, the closing runner-up Ayacara was arguably made to look better than he really is by comparison. The Lewis alum offering the most plausible case is Peace. A too-bad-to-be-true fifth that day when experimenting with blinkers, the Richard Mandella pupil now removes the headgear. If he responds as well as McKinzie did to that equipment change, perhaps the Violence colt can redeem his reputation. Even so, he’ll need a sizeable step forward versus the top two. That’s why Hall of Famer Mike Smith sticks with McKinzie, and Drayden Van Dyke gets his chance on Peace.

5. Last-out maiden winner Aquila is thrown into the deep end, but his pedigree and connections prevent too hasty a dismissal. Trained by Simon Callaghan for Kaleem Shah, Aquila is a $685,000 OBS March juvenile purchase. The Union Rags colt is out of Grade 2 victress Sangrita, making him a full brother to last year’s Forward Gal (G2) heroine Tequilita. Sangrita is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sire Offlee Wild, from the deep family of Dynaformer. Aquila has improved in each and every start, culminating in a front-running victory at this track and trip. While that came courtesy of slow fractions, and he’s in a different league here, the April 22-born colt is a handsome type on the upswing. The only entrant not nominated to the Triple Crown, he may be auditioning for a late nomination. 

To help with your handicapping, check out the free Brisnet PPs for the San Felipe, and for wagering guidance, check out the San Felipe tip sheet.

Bolt d'Oro photo by Benoit