The defection of Game On Dude has left Ultimate Eagle as the solid favorite for Saturday’s G1 Santa Anita Handicap. As much as I love The Dude, though, Ultimate Eagle was my choice all along. For the fan who loves a horse that can do anything, this is the horse for you. In his brief career, he has finished off the board only once and has won on synthetics, turf, and dirt. He started his career off slowly, taking four tries to break his maiden, but once he got his first win, he just kept on rolling. He won a Del Mar allowance optional claiming race by two lengths. That win convinced trainer Michael Pender to up the ante and enter the colt in the G2 Oak Tree Derby. Off odds of 34-1, the son of Mizzen Mast went straight to the lead and never looked back, beating a field that included Thirtyfirststreet, Venomous (GB), Midnight Interlude, and the ultimately ill-fated Cloud Man. That win convinced me, but it evidently did not convince many others since the colt went off at odds of almost 15-1 in the G1 Hollywood Derby in his next start. He took the Derby in front running style, finished third behind Mr. Commons in the G2 Sir Beaufort Stakes, and came back with a vengeance in his first start on dirt, running away from the rest of the field in the G2 Strub Stakes.
I know quite a few people, Wesley White in particular, that would scoff at Ultimate Eagle’s record on the basis that he has raced solely in California. Those same people are the ones who believe that the great Zenyatta achieved the record that she did by beating up on lesser caliber horses. But let’s be serious here. Ultimate Eagle has beaten quite a few very talented colts. In his last race alone, he decimated Jaycito, Prayer for Relief, and Tapizar, all highly regarded colts. He has also beaten Willcox Inn, Cozy Kitten, and Casino Host, all graded stakes winners or graded stakes placed. Cozy Kitten, Casino Host, and the aforementioned Thirtyfirststreet, Venomous, and Cloud Man may not be the best of the best; but Jaycito, Prayer for Relief, Tapizar, Willcox Inn, and Midnight Interlude are talented colts.
If you are still not convinced, then how about this? The colt’s running style closely mirrors that of a certain gelding that we all love but who will not be defending his title this year: Game On Dude. Their go straight to the lead and run the rest of the field off their feet is something to behold. In terms of pace, Game On Dude has been known to get a bit headstrong on the lead, but both him and Ultimate Eagle generally are able to relax nicely at the front. Ultimate Eagle has the advantage over everyone’s favorite gelding in that surface absolutely does not matter, a fact he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in his romping dirt debut. Hey, I will admit that I did not have as much faith in him that day as I should have. Thankfully, he proved me wrong.
This year’s Big Cap drew a large field of thirteen, with Thirtyfirststreet and Prayer for Relief back to take another shot at Ultimate Eagle. Ron the Greek ships in from Florida off a game second place finish to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic but has not found the winner’s circle in a graded stakes race in two years. Twice the Appeal enters off a pair of ungraded stakes races but has not won since last year’s G3 Sunland Derby, and Uh Oh Bango comes in off a strong but distant second to Game On Dude in the G2 San Antonio Stakes. As good as Uh Oh Bango has become recently, he has not won beyond 8.5 furlongs. The biggest contender and the one with the biggest chip on his shoulder coming into the race, though, is a recently gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect who was denied the Big Cap title two years running. Yes, I am talking about Setsuko. Jockey Victor Espinoza has stated that the gelding is better than ever. Hopes are lofty for him, but he will have to catch Ultimate Eagle if he wants the Big Cap title, and considering how that worked out for him last year, I would say that Ultimate Eagle has little to worry about. The concrete runway that is the Santa Anita main track suits Ultimate Eagle’s front running style perfectly, and he has already proven that he can wire a field going 9 furlongs.
Everything from the track, to the competition, to the surface points to this being Ultimate Eagle’s race to lose. The line-up is not exactly stellar, especially in comparison to last year’s field, but it is far from the weakest field I have ever seen, too. Ultimate Eagle will go straight to the front, dictate the pace, and run away from the field in the stretch to earn himself the Big Cap title this year. After his last race, I have no doubt about this. Those are big words, but I have seen how not having faith in this colt has played out. You better believe that I will not make that mistake again. It is onward and upward for Ultimate Eagle, the horse for all courses colt. Who knows? This guy might just get crowned Champion Older Male, maybe even Horse of the Year. He is certainly off to a good start.