September 18, 2021

Santa Anita Handicap a dark horse candidate for 2019 race of the year

Hronis Racing's Gift Box (green silks) edged McKinzie by a nose in the 2019 Santa Anita Handicap © BENOIT PHOTO

It’s an understatement to say there were more lows than highs at Santa Anita during 2019. Even before the troubles of the 2018-19 winter/spring meet, though, the meet itself no longer seemed to hold as special a place as it had in years and decades past. Racing nine months out of the year in the same locale and a chronic shortage of race-ready horses, among other factors, will do that.

We’ve addressed the decline in importance of the Santa Anita H. (G1) before. However, despite it’s postponement for nearly a month last spring, the 2019 edition managed to produce one of its most thrilling and dramatic finishes in a long time.

Although the 2019 Big ‘Cap proved not to have the long-term implications of, say, the 1987 nail-biter involving Broad Brush and eventual Horse of the Year Ferdinand, it remained one of the highlights of the 2019 season as Gift Box, making his first start in more than three months, held on by a desperate nose over odds-on favorite McKinzie. The latter would show consistently high quality for the duration of his campaign, yet that afternoon was not the first nor the last time that the son of Street Sense would demonstrate that a 10th furlong was one too much. Gift Box, meanwhile, was limited to less than a handful of starts throughout the year due to injury.

Was it the very best race of the year? Opinions will vary, and it being considered so by a minority of one would not surprise. Though its future might be murky, the Big ‘Cap’s ability to dazzle the fan of the Thoroughbred is still seemingly undiminished.