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Santa Anita: Baffert Poised for Big Weekend

Bob Baffert’s ultimate goal for Liaison and Sky Kingdom is the Kentucky Derby on May 5. But the Hall of Fame trainer, a three-time winner of the Run for the Roses, anticipates the best from two of his leading Triple Crown contenders on Saturday when they start in the Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.


“They’re doing well and we want to win the race,” Baffert said Thursday morning. “They’re going into the race very well-prepared so we expect them to run pretty well.”


Liaison, winner of the Grade I CashCall Futurity on Dec. 17, will be making his 3-year-old debut in the Lewis, named for the late Bob Lewis, who owned the first Kentucky Derby winner Baffert trained, Silver Charm, in 1997. Lewis died at 81 in February of 2006.


Sky Kingdom was fourth in the CashCall but was an impressive allowance winner at Santa Anita on Jan. 12, winning a mile and one-sixteenth test by 4 ½ lengths, “easily.”


“I just want them to have a good race,” Baffert said. “They’ve had a few starts now where they’ve got enough foundation and they’ve done well. You just want them to stay healthy.”


In addition to Liaison and Sky Kingdom in the Lewis, Baffert has Jaycito and Prayer for Relief running in Saturday’s Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Game On Dude set for his 2012 debut in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes, a forerunner to this year’s Big ‘Cap on March 3.


Jaycito, winner of the 2010 Norfolk Stakes when trained by Mike Mitchell, has been training in sensational fashion at Hollywood Park. In his last five recorded workouts at the Inglewood oval, four have been “bullets,” meaning they were the fastest of the day at their respective distances.


“I was thinking of running him in an allowance race,” Baffert said of the son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, “but the allowance race came up just as tough as the Strub. If Jaycito runs well there, it could set him up for something else.”


Game On Dude, meanwhile, “has been training great” for the San Antonio, which could lead to defense of his crown in the Santa Anita Handicap or a trip to the Middle East to compete in the Dubai World Cup on March 31.


The field for the Lewis: Isn’t He Clever, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano, 9-5; Groovin’ Solo, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez, 12-1; Sky Kingdom, Martin Garcia, 6-1; Rousing Sermon, Joe Talamo, 5-2; Empire Way, Joel Rosario, 6-1; and Chips All In, Alonso Quinonez, 6-1.


The field for Sunday’s San Antonio: Tres Borrachos, Rafael Bejarano; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland; El Gato Malo, Corey Nakatani; Ashtar, Kevin Krigger; Victory Pete, Martin Garcia; and Skipshot, Joe Talamo.



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