Gift Box on track to defend his San Antonio Stakes win

December 14, 2019 02:05pm

With a bullet 3/4-mile breeze Saturday morning at Santa Anita Park, Grade 1 winner Gift Box took another step forward toward his first race in half a year.

Owner Kosta Hronis said the John Sadler-trained son of Twirling Candy will return in a spot that changed the horse’s career arc: Santa Anita’s Dec. 26 San Antonio Stakes (G2), which he won in 2018 while debuting for the new west coast connections.

“So long as he comes out of the workout great, that’s our plan — opening day at Santa Anita, and we’ll build on that,” Hronis said.

He added that Gift Box “looked great” stopping the clock in 1:11.60 for the San Antonio, run at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds and up. The former Chad Brown trainee, sold to Hronis Racing privately last year, went from allowance winner to graded stakes hero when defeating Battle of Midway by a half length.

From there, Gift Box won the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1), defeating McKinzie, then finished second to the eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1).

The 6-year-old went to the sidelines after running fourth as the favorite in Churchill Downs’ June 15 Stephen Foster (G2).

“He’s a funny horse,” Hronis said. “He has tiny issues — nothing big, but stuff that’s nagging. We went through this a few times with other horses. We learned our lesson. The best thing to do is set him back down, give him a fresh start and the time he needs to get back on the racetrack and perform at the level he’s able to.”

The San Antonio will jump start a campaign that connections hope leads to Gift Box’s try at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

“We’ll space him out a little better with our fingers crossed that that’s what we can do,” Hronis said. “He’s built for the mile and a quarter, and I think he can run against anyone.”

In the nearer future, Gift Box could develop into a candidate for the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park or big-money races overseas, the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup and March 28 Dubai World Cup (G1).

Stablemate Higher Power is a prospect for those same races.

“We’ll just let them lead us,” Hronis said, “and see who’s ready to go — who we think would be the best do to the traveling.”


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