The $600,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) may not hold the same esteem it once did but Saturday’s 81st running of the 1 ¼-mile test shapes up to be a good betting race. Bob Baffert has a pair of Grade 1 winners in Hoppertunity and Mubtaahij, and Accelerate enters on the upswing following a sharp score in the San Pasqual (G2). Little separates the top contenders in an eight-horse field.
The Big ‘Cap is one of five stakes on a blockbuster program. Champion turf male World Approval, who shipped west to capture the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar, returns to Southern California for the $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) and top Kentucky Derby contenders Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie will square off in the $400,000 San Felipe (G2).
Six of the Big ‘Cap entrants competed in the February 3 San Pasqual and/or December 26 San Antonio (G2) at Santa Anita. Giant Expectations upset the San Antonio but did not fare well when shipping to Gulfstream Park for a ninth-place showing in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). Ten furlongs looks like a tall task but he will opt for the Big ‘Cap over the 7-furlong Triple Bend and Corey Nakatani picks up the mount.
Accelerate finished second in the San Antonio before posting a 1 ¾-length tally in the San Pasqual. Victor Espinoza retains the mount for John Sadler. Multiple Grade 1 hero Hoppertunity checked in fourth in the San Antonio and the 7-year-old keeps Flavien Prat. Mike Smith takes over aboard Mubtaahij, who captured the Awesome Again (G1) last fall and exits a third in the San Pasqual.
Cougar II H. (G3) winner Curlin Road makes his first start since a fourth in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Fear the Cowboy, winner of the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) two back and fourth most recently in the Pegasus World Cup, invades from Florida for Efren Loza Jr. Prime Attraction and Top of the Game, second and fifth in the San Pasqual, round out the field.
World Approval will bring a four-race win streak into the Frank E. Kilroe Mile and the outstanding 6-year-old gelding will be seeking his 11th overall stakes victory. Conditioned by Mark Casse, World Approval pick up the services of Prat because regular rider John Velazquez is committed to Kentucky Derby prospect Vino Rosso in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). The gray Florida-bred drew perfectly in post 5.
The top three finishers from the February 10 Thunder Road (G3) at Santa Anita – Om, Bowies Hero and Next Shares – are back and 2016 Frank E. Kilroe Mile winner What a View, a head second in last year’s edition, will make his second start back from a layoff after using the about 6 ½-furlong Daytona (G3) on February 24 as a tune-up.
In the $400,000 Triple Bend, City of Light merits serious respect after connections announced Giant Expectations will scratch in favor of the Big ‘Cap. The 4-year-old exits a two-length score in the opening-day Malibu (G1) and Drayden Van Dyke sticks with the son of Quality Road. Unbeaten Captain Scotty, another son of Quality Road, is scheduled to make his stakes debut following a pair of convincing wins over maiden special weight and entry-level allowance foes.
A close second in the February 11 Sweet Life, Ms Bad Behavior will seek her first stakes triumph in the $75,000 China Doll for 3-year-old fillies. Kent Desormeaux rides the Richard Baltas pupil. Unbeaten Californiagoldrush will make her first stakes appearance for Neil Drysdale in the one-mile turf affair and last-out Blue Norther winner Ippodamia’s Girl is also part of the 12-horse cast.