After Bob Baffert sends out current Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful Thousand Words in Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis (G3), the Hall of Fame trainer hopes that 2019 classic runner Roadster can regain the winning thread in the $200,000 San Pasqual (G2) at Santa Anita. The 1 1/8-mile test serves as the local stepping stone to the March 7 Santa Anita H. (G1).
Since nabbing stablemate Game Winner in last spring’s Santa Anita Derby (G1), Roadster has dropped five straight. The gray was only 15th in the sloppy Kentucky Derby but gave a more representative effort when second in the June 16 Affirmed (G3) to stablemate Mucho Gusto. The Affirmed result has taken on fresh perspective with Mucho Gusto’s romp in the Pegasus World Cup (G1).
Roadster has yet to move forward as his stablemate. Beaten a nose when next seen in the Damascus on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, Roadster was a disappointing last of four behind Midcourt in the Nov. 23 Native Diver (G3). He reportedly exited under the weather. In his latest, Roadster signaled a return to form as a rallying second to Omaha Beach in the Dec. 28 Malibu (G1). Now he stretches back out to two turns with Joel Rosario on the rail.
Another seeking to restore his early reputation is fellow 4-year-old Instagrand. Shelved after romping in his two juvenile starts by a combined 20 lengths, including the Best Pal (G2), the OXO Equine runner didn’t recapture that brilliance as a 3-year-old. Instagrand was a respectable third in the Gotham (G3) and in Roadster’s Santa Anita Derby, but sustained a sesamoid injury when eighth in the Pat Day Mile (G3).
Transferred from embattled Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer to trainer Don Chatlos, Instagrand has lost twice in second-level allowance company this winter. Chatlos has said there were extenuating circumstances in both, and hopes that the Instagrand of old will resurface. Umberto Rispoli picks up the mount on the $1.2 million juvenile purchase, who is drawn in post 6.
The John Shirreffs-trained Midcourt capitalized on an uncertain pace scenario to dominate the Native Diver for his fourth straight win. A less satisfactory start in the Dec. 28 San Antonio (G2), however, put him out of position, and Midcourt had to settle for third to Gift Box and the 24-1 King Abner. Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza is back aboard Midcourt.
Gift Box’s connections, Hronis Racing and John Sadler, unveil a new recruit in Combatant who adds blinkers. A “nearly” horse for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the son of Scat Daddy was a contender on the 2018 Derby trail who finished up the track behind Justify at Churchill Downs. Combatant made one previous foray to Santa Anita at the end of that campaign, placing a close third in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) on turf, and brings a profile similar to others who’ve done well for the barn. Drayden Van Dyke is tasked with navigating a passage from post 10.
Restrainedvengence was last seen wiring the Nov. 27 Zia Park Championship H. in a field-best 105 Brisnet Speed rating. The Val Brinkerhoff charge has been nibbling at a graded score, missing narrowly in both the Longacres Mile (G3) and City of Hope Mile (G2), and gets the hot-riding Abel Cedillo.
Rounding out the cast are Two Thirty Five, most recently third in the Native Diver but beaten only a neck by Midcourt in the Comma to the Top two back; California Street, coming out of placings in the same allowances with Instagrand; and class-climbing stakes debutants Bold Endeavor (who’s won his past two) and Route Six Six (unraced since Del Mar last summer).
Turf veterans are in action in the $200,000 San Marcos (G2), where United hopes to end his status as a bridesmaid. A head away from posting a 51-1 shock of Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), United went down by a neck to Oscar Dominguez in the Dec. 1 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2). A wide passage from post 10 didn’t help his cause that day, and Flavien Prat figures to have a better hand to play from post 4 here.
On the other hand, United is also turning back in trip to 1 1/4 miles. The Richard Mandella trainee had previously placed in a pair of graded stakes at this course and distance, the May 25 Charles Whittingham (G2) and Sept. 28 John Henry Turf Championship (G2). The winner of the latter, Cleopatra’s Strike, appeared outstayed when fourth in the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup and outsprinted when collared by Desert Stone in the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel (G2) in his latest. This could be his ideal trip.
Campaign sports a nifty formline as the third-placer to future Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) hero Zulu Alpha and Arklow in the Sept. 7 Kentucky Turf Cup (G3). The Sadler runner flopped when reverting to dirt last out in the Marathon (G2), well below the standard set by his wins in the Tokyo City Cup (G3) and Cougar II (G3). But Campaign remains relatively unexposed on turf.
Multiplier reunites with Peter Miller after a forgettable 2019 based on the East Coast. With new rider Rispoli aboard, the tactical son of The Factor might try to steal it in a paceless race. Chosen Vessel needs to step up from a fourth in the San Gabriel and fifth in the Hollywood Turf Cup. Multiple Chilean Group 1-placed Brown Storm, sixth in the Hollywood Turf Cup, hopes that his third North American outing is the charm.