Bob Baffert, who has trained the winners of nine Triple Crown races,
faces a compelling challenge with Liaison and Bodemeister, his two
entrants among ten 3-year-olds signed up for Santa Anita’s Grade II,
$300,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday.
Liaison, who has earned $469,560 from 3 wins in 5 starts
including last December’s Grade I CashCall Futurity, will be trying to
regain his elite status following a disastrous outing in the Grade II
Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4. Bodemeister simply will be trying to
prove that a stunning maiden victory can belatedly launch him into
becoming a genuine Kentucky Derby principal.
Baffert had been planning to enter his provocative youngster Fed
Biz -- a consensus Top Five choice among Kentucky Derby prospects
despite never having run in a stakes race -- in the event that serves as
the final stepping stone to the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on
April 7. Six of the last 15 San Felipe winners have successively
transitioned to the Santa Anita Derby. But early this week Fed Biz was
struck by a setback.
“It’s nothing serious,” said Baffert. “He tied up a little.” So
into the breach to make his stakes debut has stepped Bodemeister, an
Empire Maker colt named after Baffert’s youngest son, Bode (pronounced
Bodee). Bodemeister’s name did not even appear among the original 139
nominees to the San Felipe or the Santa Anita Derby.
Owned by Zayat Stables, Bodemeister did not begin his career
until running second in a 5 ½-furlong maiden event on Jan. 16. But when
he stretched out to one mile on Feb. 11, the $260,000 auction purchase
looked sensational. He ran the distance in 1:34 2/5, won by 9 ¼ lengths,
and earned a robust Beyer speed rating of 101.
Even Baffert seemed nonplussed by the performance. “Bodemeister
looked pretty damn impressive,” he said. “I’m sort of surprised by what
he did, but this is the time of year that we want horses to surprise us.
We were a little late getting him going, but I’ll tell you one thing:
I’ve never seen a slow, fit, seasoned 3-year-old win the Derby. You
still have to have that talent.’
Yet no matter how much talent Bodemeister may possess, winning
the Kentucky Derby off four career starts seems a monumental task. No
horse who did not race as a 2-year-old has won the Derby since Apollo in
1882. And only one horse, Big Brown, has done so with four starts or
less since Exterminator in 1918. Rafael Bejarano, the nation’s third
leading rider in terms of earnings who was due to ride Feb Biz, will
rejoin Bodemeister instead.
Arnold Zetcher’s Liaison, who will be handled by Martin Garcia,
was the 3-2 favorite in the Lewis when misfortune struck. The headstrong
son of Indian Charlie lost his rider, Bejarano, in the stretch after
getting squeezed back and stumbling badly while in search of a fourth
straight victory. Liaison nevertheless already was a beaten horse at
the time of the incident. Baffert has been attempting to harness some of
the swift colt’s speed in preparation for the San Felipe.
The Baffert pair’s opposition includes Creative Cause,
impressive 3 ¼ length winner of last October’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes;
Empire Way, fast-closing runner-up to I’ll Have Another in the Grade II
Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4; California-bred Rousing Sermon, third
in the Lewis and second in the CashCall Hollywood Futurity; Midnight
Transfer, winner of the San Pedro Stakes, and Blingo who is attempting
to follow in the footsteps of 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.
Mike Harrington may not have the vast wealth of 3-year-olds that
Baffert maintains, but the 70-year-old trainer also will run a pair of
leading contenders, Creative Cause and Empire Way, in the San Felipe.
Heinz Steinmann’s Creative Cause, who has earned $539,000 with a
3-1-2 record in six starts, disappointed in his 2012 debut at odds of
1-2 in the Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 19.
Although he finished a non-threatening third, beaten a length in
the seven furlong San Vicente, the strapping Giant’s Causeway colt
galloped out strongly, which should bode well considering the added
distance of the San Felipe. After winning the Norfolk, the Harrington
trainee stamped himself as a nationally prominent Derby candidate when
finishing a game third, a length and a head behind Hansen and Union
Rags in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov.
5. Santa Anita’s leading rider, Joel Rosario, retains the mount.
Stablemate Empire Way, an improving Empire Maker colt also owned
by Steinmann, turned in his best effort in four starts with a rousing
finish and strong gallop-out as the runner-up in the Lewis at 1 1/16
miles. It was his first start on dirt. Brice Blanc has been named to
ride Empire Way, an earner of $112,000.
Harrington did not originally intend to run both colts in the
San Felipe. “The timing for both of them kind of dictates that I run
them this weekend,” he said. He noted that the two have contrasting
styles. “Creative Cause will lay close and the other horse will come
from back,” said Harrington. “They won’t interfere with each other as
far as running styles; it’s just that I need earnings for Empire Way and
if the other horse beats him, I’m shooting myself in the foot. But you
have to do what you have to do sometimes.”
Rousing Sermon, a son of Lucky Pulpit owned and bred by Mr.
& Mrs. Larry D. Williams, relied on his closing style to win last
October’s California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita before finishing second
to Liaison in both the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park and the
Cash-Call Futurity. Joe Talamo will ride the chestnut colt for Hall of
Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Rousing Sermon has earned $298,000 from
a 2-2-3 record in seven starts.
A late-developing son of Hard Spun, Midnight Transfer made the
successful leap from maiden breaker to stakes winner in the Jan. 22 San
Pedro at 6 ½ furlongs. Trained by Carla Gaines for Warren Williamson,
Midnight Transfer will stretch out to a route for the first time with
Victor Espinoza in the saddle.
Another 3-year-old attempting to use the San Felipe as a
springboard to Santa Anita Derby contention is Blingo, who has not raced
since closing well to be sixth in Hollywood Park’s CashCall Futurity.
Having been gelded appears to have increased Blingo’s focus. “He’s a
gelding for a reason,” noted trainer John Shirreffs.
A son of Artie Schiller purchased by Jerry and Ann Moss for
$80,000 as a yearling, Blingo races for the same connections as did
Giacomo in 2005. Giacomo went from a second-place finish in the San
Felipe to running fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before pulling off a
50-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby under Mike Smith.
The complete field for the San Felipe Stakes, with jockeys and
weights in post position order: Blingo, Mike Smith, 118; Bodemeister,
Rafael Bejarano, 118; American Act, Martin Pedroza, 118; Midnight
Transfer, Victor Espinoza, 118; Groovin’ Solo, Alonso Quinonez, 118;
Liaison, Martin Garcia, 123; Creative Cause, Joel Rosario, 123; Rousing
Sermon, Joseph Talamo, 118; Tiz Point, Garrett Gomez, 118, and Empire
Way, 118, Brice Blanc, 118.
The San Felipe will be contested as the ninth race on a program
of 10 races with first post at 12:30 p.m. A supporting feature, the
$70,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, will be run as the
eighth race with nine entrants including Irish-bred Indigo River.
Trained by Jeff Mullins for Michael House, the import will be stretching
out to two turns after winning her first two United States starts at 6 ½
furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. Rosario rides.
The complete field for the China Doll Stakes, with jockeys and
weights in post position order: Via Villaggio, Pedroza, 119; Lady of
Shamrock, Smith, 122; Indigo River, Rosario, 117; Graser, Bejarano, 117;
Vionnet, Gomez, 117; Risky Art, Blanc, 122, Lady of Fifty, Talamo, 122;
Hennessy River, Kevin Krigger, 117, and She Spirit di Su, David Flores,