Sunday play: Who is Baffert's best of 4 in the San Vicente?

Sunday play: Who is Baffert's best of 4 in the San Vicente?
Photo: Del Mar / Benoit Photo

Once again, trainer Bob Baffert controls more than half the field in a Southern California circuit stakes race. This time four of five entrants in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday hail from his barn. The morning-line favorite Havnameltdown holds the overall edge because of his class.

                   Click here for Santa Anita entries and results.

Even though Faustin comes into this race with a ton of hype off his Dec. 26 win in a local six-furlong, maiden race, Havnameltdown deserves the most respect as a multiple graded-stakes winner and runner-up in a Grade 1 event last summer. Right now Faustin is only a local maiden winner. 

Havnameltdown broke his maiden at Del Mar in July. He then won the six-furlong Best Pal Stakes (G3) the next month for his first stakes win.

After the capturing the Best Pal, Havnameltdown took on his stablemate and former division leader Cave Rock in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (G1) on Sept. 11. To Havnameltdown’s credit, he applied a good amount of pressure to Cave Rock through the initial quarter before fading. Cave Rock won by 5 1/4 lengths over Havnameltdown in second.

In Cave Rock’s next start, he won the American Pharoah Stakes (G1). Afterward, Cave Rock turned in a good effort to finish second to Forte in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after setting the pace under pressure.

Despite losing for the first time in the Del Mar Futurity, Havnameltdown earned a career-high 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He also repeated the figure in his next race.

Baffert had Havnameltdown skip the Breeders’ Cup. Instead, he waited for the Bob Hope Stakes in November, another seven-furlong dirt stakes race at the Grade 3 level. After taking the lead before the half-mile, Havnameltdown went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths with the same 114 he earned in the Del Mar Futurity.

Bob Hope runner-up Newgate went on to finish second by a neck to Reincarnate in the Sham Stakes (G3) earlier this month, and third-place Practical Move won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in December.

Havnameltdown leads this San Vicente field from both a speed-figure rating and class perspective. He deserves his low morning-line odds.

When Faustin broke his maiden on the meet's opening day by 2 3/4 lengths, he earned a solid 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure. The fourth-place Worcester, who is also trained by Baffert, went on to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths to yet another Baffert trainee named Hejazi in a local Jan. 15 maiden race. Last fall, Hejazi had shown talent by finishing third to Cave Rock in the American Pharoah Stakes.

Faustin could win his graded-stakes debut. But the public might bet him too eagerly off the hype as everyone wants to see the next Baffert star.

Gilmore gives the impression of being the third-best Baffert entrant. He broke his maiden by four lengths last month in a one-mile Los Alamitos maiden race while earning a 105 on TimeformUS. The way Gilmore finished up his maiden win is impressive to watch, as he ran strong toward the wire like a horse who wants more distance in the future.

The last Baffert entrant to discuss is Fort Warren, who makes his first start off the bench after breaking his maiden locally Oct. 30 in a maiden sprint.

As the announcer noted in Fort Warren’s win, he took all kinds of pressure and still found more in the stretch to prevail by half a length over Spun Intended, who recently ended up easing on the far turn of the Sham Stakes.

Right now, a wait-and-see approach is best with Fort Warren.

Havnameltdown offers no bargain at 6-5. But if he floats up slightly and Faustin’s odds go down, then a win bet might seem attractive.

But again, a race where one trainer has four of the five entrants typically does not offer a good betting situation. Baffert controls the strategy of the four horses in the same stakes, which might result in an odd-looking race. Also note that Fort Warren and Gilmore have the same owners. Is Fort Warren just a rabbit for Gilmore? It is one possibility.

If the San Vicente is needed for multi-race wagers, then Havnameltdown is the preferred Baffert option. If Havnameltdown’s odds float up, then he becomes a decent win play as well.

Overall, though, this is a better race to just watch.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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