San Felipe comes up tough with Mor Spirit & Exaggerator as top draws
The most accomplished 3-year-old on the West Coast, Nyquist, will remain on the sidelines as he readies for a match-up with Mohaymen in the April 2 Florida Derby (G1), but Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita still has major Kentucky Derby implications.
Mor Spirit and Exaggerator head a strong seven-horse field in the 1 1/16-mile race, which offers points on a 50-20-10-5 scale as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Adding further depth is unbeaten California-bred Smokey Image, who will make his first start against open company; Cupid and Danzing Candy, a pair of exciting prospects making their first stakes attempt; and Uncle Lino and I Will Score, the respective runner-up and third-placer in the February 6 Robert B. Lewis (G3).
Mor Spirit finished a commendable second when jumping straight from a Santa Anita maiden win to the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy Churchill Downs’ track in late November and the son of Eskendereya concluded his juvenile season with a rallying score in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).
Conditioned by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who moved into a tie for second all-time when recording his fourth Kentucky Derby win with American Pharoah last year, Mor Spirit opened 2016 with a solid 1 ½-length victory in the Robert Lewis. Regular rider Gary Stevens has the call.
Exaggerator made his stakes debut a winning one in the Saratoga Special (G2) and came back from a freshening to post a good second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland in early October. The Keith Desormeaux-trained Curlin colt didn’t receive the best trip when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but Exaggerator rebounded with a nice score in the lucrative Delta Jackpot (G3) in late November, registering a field-best 103 BRIS Speed rating in the process.
The dark bay ran well when opening his 3-year-old season in the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) on February 15, finishing second by 1 ½ lengths to unbeaten juvenile champion Nyquist, and Exaggerator figures to appreciate the stretch back out to two turns in the San Felipe. Kent Desormeaux will be in the irons.
Smokey Image puts a six-race win skein on the line, most recently posting an 8 ½-length victory in the January 30 California Cup Derby, and the Carla Gaines-trained son of Southern Image will have the benefit of Victor Espinoza, a three-time Kentucky Derby-winning pilot who has captured the last two editions aboard California Chrome and American Pharoah.
Baffert is also responsible for Cupid, an eye-catching maiden winner when making his first two-turn start at Santa Anita on February 7, and trainer Cliff Sise Jr. will send out Danzing Candy, who tries stakes rivals after posting impressive wins over maiden special weight and entry-level allowance foes this meet.
Uncle Lino and I Will Score will be making their second stakes attempt for trainers Gary Sherlock and Jerry Hollendorfer.
The San Felipe is part of a dynamite quartet of graded stakes Saturday that includes the $1 million Santa Anita H. (G1).
First photo of Mor Spirit courtesy of Benoit Photos
Second photo of Exaggerator courtesy of Coady Photography