What a super match-up this could be! No, I am not talking about the Patriots and Giants in tomorrow’s Super Bowl. I am talking about the possible clash of titans shaping up for next month’s Santa Anita Handicap. As one of the biggest races of the first half of the year, and one with a rich history of great horses, and great races, Big Cap Day is always one that I circle on my calendar at the beginning of the year. This year’s edition should be no exception, as a real slobberknocker is looming if a pair of speedsters do what I expect them to do today and tomorrow at Santa Anita.
In one corner, you have the known quantity in Game On Dude. The five-year-old gelding is as game and tough as anyone in the nation, as evidenced by his thrilling victory in last year’s Big Cap, as well as, his most recent race when he ran a bang-up second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the other corner you have the talented Tapizar. Besieged by an injury at the wrong time last year, the son of Tapit has returned with a vengeance including a sparkling front running victory in the Grade 2 San Fernando three weeks ago. I am already salivating thinking about the two of them going at it for the entire 1 ¼ miles of the Big Cap next month. First things first though.
To borrow the parlance of some of our favorite team sports, if the Santa Anita Handicap can be likened to the early championship game, then today’s Strub Stakes, and tomorrow’s San Antonio are the semifinals in which each horse will need to win in convincing manner to set the table for a most mouthwatering meeting on March the 3rd.
Tapizar looked so good in the San Fernando, that I believe the sky may be the limit for the now healthy, Steve Asmussen trainee. Critics will point to added distance as a possible stumbling block, and until he proves it, that question will remain, but I expect today’s trip of nine furlongs to be well within his scope. Also, considering that some of his main contenders today are the same horses he routed last time, I am feeling pretty confident about his chances. One interesting newcomer to the Strub is Ultimate Eagle, who has proven to be classy on the turf, but dirt will be a new racing experience for him. If he does take to dirt, his class and early speed could make life tougher on Tapizar.
Meanwhile, 24 hours later, Santa Anita railbirds will be excited to see the return of Game On Dude. The horse that fell just a whisker short of being named the Older Male Champion for 2011, will be making his first start in three months. While that may bother some, trainer Bob Baffert is notorious for his ability to have his charges primed for a sharp effort right out of the proverbial gate. In the San Antonio, Game On Dude returns to the site of his two most important victories in the Big Cap and the Goodwood. The next two choices on the morning line are the first two finishers in the recent San Pasqual, Uh Oh Bango and Tres Borrachos. The pair represent a solid couple of experienced horses, but in truth fall well below the Dude on the class scale. Clearly Game On Dude with regular rider Chantal Sutherland in the saddle, is strictly the one to beat.
There you have it, let the anticipation train start rolling. If Tapizar wins the Strub nicely today, and Game On Dude does his thing tomorrow, the Santa Anita Handicap should provide the first huge racing event of 2012.