If not the horse to beat, trainer Steve Asmussen’s Tapizar is clearly the one to catch among eight entrants Saturday in Santa Anita’s 60th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
“He’s very fast, and they’re going to have to pick up their feet to beat him,” jockey Corey Nakatani said of the Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred son of Tapit who wired 3-year-olds by 4 ¼ lengths in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes one year ago.
Tapizar returns from a freshening after fading to fifth behind Celeb’s Posse in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to climax his 3-year-old season on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
The venerable San Fernando has served as a productive stepping stone to Santa Anita’s historic Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds on Feb. 4 as well as the Santa Anita Handicap, set for March 3.
Sixteen winners of the Strub prepped in the San Fernando including Silver Charm, Best Pal, Precisionist and Spectacular Bid. Six of the Strub winners went on to add the Big ’Cap. Four San Fernando winners captured the Santa Anita Handicap without winning the Strub.
Nakatani has ridden Tapizar but once previously. He was aboard when the bay colt sped to a 2 ¼-length allowance race victory at Belmont Park while running seven furlongs in 1:21 1/5 as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Nakatani has become more familiar with Tapizar during a pair of recent six-furlong works at Santa Anita, both in 1:12-and-change. Tapizar comes into the San Fernando with earnings of $173,032 from 3 wins in 8 starts.
His opposition includes a three-time derby winner for Bob Baffert. Prayer for Relief last year successively won the Grade III Iowa Derby, Grade II West Virginia Derby and Grade II Super Derby at Louisiana Downs before missing by less than one length in the Oklahoma Derby.
Zayat Stables’ son of Jump Start went to the sidelines after retreating to ninth in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.
Rafael Bejarano, aboard for Prayer for Relief’s last five starts, has the return assignment atop the colt who has earned $1,015,225 from a 5-1-1 record in 10 starts. As the field’s 123-pound high weight, Prayer for Relief will be conceding five pounds to each of his rivals.
Irish Art, runner-up to Mr. Commons in the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes on Dec. 26, will be racing on dirt for the first time after compiling a turf record of 2-3-0 in 7 starts for trainer Carla Gaines. The Artie Schiller offspring has earned $131,400 for Warren Williamson. Joel Rosario has the mount.
Darley Stable’s Balladry is coming off a pair of solid efforts in allowance competition including a 2 ¾-length win over Santa Anita’s main track on Oct. 28. Joe Talamo rides the gray son of Unbridled’s Song who has been victorious in 2 of 11 starts for trainer Eoin Harty.
The complete field for the San Fernando Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Prayer for Relief, Rafael Bejarano, 123; Balladry, Joseph Talamo, 118; Riveting Reason, Alonso Quinonez, 118; Dreaminofthewin, Martin Garcia, 118; Irish Art, Joel Rosario, 118; Spud Spivens, Mike Smith, 118; First Strike, Victor Espinoza, 118 and Tapizar, Corey Nakatani, 118.