Five things to know for San Felipe
Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita is the first Southern California prep of the season to offer 50 Kentucky Derby (G1) points toward the winner. If the 1 1/16-mile contest is short on quantity, it’s long on quality, pitting three elite contenders against each other.
1. Undefeated Mastery, the 6-5 favorite on the morning line, is meeting his most serious opponents yet. Another well-regarded Derby hopeful from the Bob Baffert academy, the $425,000 Keeneland September yearling has won all three starts in the manner of a good one. Mastery wired his six-furlong debut at Santa Anita by 4 1/4 lengths, again showed the way in the Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar, and argued early before drawing off in his two-turn bow in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).
As visually impressive as Mastery was last time at Los Al, it wasn’t a vintage renewal. He faced only four overmatched opponents, and the two who have run back, Irap and Dangerfield, have done nothing to advertise the form. Hence Mastery’s price is more influenced by his connections and potential than his literal form. Now the Candy Ride colt returns from a three-month vacation, and resumes at 1 1/16 miles, in no easy spot. You need to be a big fan of the colt (as I am) to keep the faith here.
2. Gormley has already won two major races over a route of ground at this track, in both cases upending a Baffert hotpot. In last October’s FrontRunner (G1) at this trip, he beat Klimt (who’s since been switched to Art Sherman) in front-running fashion. Most recently in the January 7 Sham (G3) going a mile, Gormley gave the inexperienced American Anthem five pounds and outdueled him by a head.
His ever-patient trainer, John Shirreffs, isn’t exactly known for cranking out two-year-old debut winners, so it was a big hint of his talent that Gormley was able to win convincingly first time out. The well-bred son of Malibu Moon has lost just once in his life, when seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and figures to turn in his typically solid effort here.
3. Iliad provides not only a wild card in his first two-turn attempt, but also a compelling storyline of taking on former stablemate Mastery. Originally trained by Baffert, Iliad turned heads in his sharp maiden win at Los Alamitos December 18. But only a couple of weeks later came the bombshell news of the breakup between Baffert and owner Kaleem Shah. Iliad was among those whom Shah transferred to Doug O’Neill, in a real plot twist on the Triple Crown trail.
In his debut for O’Neill, Iliad kept to one turn and smashed them in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2). While that came against four other maiden winners, the Ghostzapper ridgling stalked and cleared with authority. This represents a double test – of class versus two Grade 1 winners, and of routing ability. He’ll get help from his Hall of Fame sire, but his dam, Little Swoon, was a sprinter from an obscure family. Little Swoon did produce the thoroughgoing stayer Melmich, winner of Woodbine’s Dominion Day (G3) and Valedictory (G3) (in track-record time for 1 3/4 miles), though. Unless that was mostly thanks to Melmich’s sire Wilko, Iliad may get more than I’m expecting from his dam’s side.
4. The “Big Three” make for a fascinating cat-and-mouse game, being drawn alongside each other and having similar styles. Ordinarily, you might expect the blinkered Mastery to go forward from post 4, since Gormley (5) and Iliad (6) are to his outside, and he’s naturally quicker than the three longshots to his inside. But Mastery rated kindly off his workmate before pulling away in his last bullet drill, and Baffert’s all about figuring out their optimal running styles in the preps. Wouldn’t this be the right time to practice easing slightly off the pace, and see how he handles it? Either way, Mastery will learn something that will stand him in good stead for his final prep, and especially in the Derby.
Gormley also has fine tactical speed, but Iliad, who’s been chasing torrid fractions every time and launched his move at a wicked half in :44 in the San Vicente, may just find himself on top early. When you’re acclimated to a sprint pace, chances are you’re going to flash more speed in a route.
The early split-second decisions made by Mike Smith (Mastery), Victor Espinoza (Gormley), and Flavien Prat (Iliad) may factor considerably in the end result.
5. Ann Arbor Eddie is the only other runner with a plausible shot at hitting the board. Iliad’s stablemate was supposedly eyeing the UAE Derby (G2) before staying home at Santa Anita, where he’s two-for-two. All three of his wins have come at the expense of Cal-restricted company, but he did finish third to Mastery in last November’s Bob Hope at Del Mar and second (demoted to fourth) in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) in his latest. As a consistent type, if a notch below the best, the Square Eddie gelding will need at least one of the Big Three to falter to gain a placing here.
Enjoy what should be a terrific edition of the San Felipe - and get your free Brisnet PPs here!
Mastery photo courtesy of Benoit