It’s Baffert vs. O’Neill as Kentucky Derby prospects Flashback and Goldencents head a field of eight in Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes.
The Doug O’Neill-trained Goldencents races two months after a win in the one-mile, Grade III Sham Stakes last time out. His three victories also include a gate-to-wire score in the Grade III Delta Jackpot at the San Felipe distance of 1 1/16 mile on Nov. 17. His only defeat in four starts was a second place finish to Shanghai Bobby in the Grade I Champagne, a one-turn mile at Belmont Park on Oct. 6.
Lightly raced Flashback, an emphatic 6 1/4-length winner of the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 mile on Feb. 2, will be making only his third career start for Bob Baffert, but the grey son of Tapit has brilliant speed and what appears to be yet-untapped talent.
A synopsis of the field from the rail out:
1. Carving is owned by world famous downhill skier Bode Miller and his trainer's wife Jill -- and goes in as the “other Baffert”. Purchased last May for $55,000, the colt by Any Given Saturday broke his maiden for an $80,000 claiming tag first out at Del Mar on Aug. 23. He then won a minor stakes at Fairplex Park going the track's two-turn distance of seven furlongs and showed good speed before tiring to finish fourth in the Grade I FrontRunner, formerly the Norfolk, going 1 1/16 mile on Sept. 29.
A subsequent winner of the 8 1/2-furlong Real Quiet Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park, he made no impact from off the pace in the Grade I CashCall Futurity. Bet to 5-2 in his most recent start, the Grade III El Camino Real Derby, Carving was 10 lengths off the leader leaving the half-mile pole and was beaten 6 3/4 lengths after steadying a furlong out.
Rafael Bejarano will be up on Saturday. With three wins from six starts, he has $171,900 in earnings.
2. Flashback was a 3 1/2-length first-out maiden special weight winner going seven furlongs on Dec. 8, getting a Beyer Speed figure of 93. He followed that up by earning a 92 Beyer in the Lewis. Owned by Gary and Mary West, he fetched $260,000 at the Keeneland Nov. 2010 yearling sale. Off at even money in his debut, this flashy colt was 1-2 in the four-horse Lewis.
Baffert has overseen a steady series of drills since the Lewis win, his most recent being a bullet five furlong move in :59.00 (1/63). Julien Leparoux, who rode last year’s Kentucky Derby favorite Union Rags, appears to have something very special again this year.
3. Goldencents was purchased for $62,000 at a 2-year-old in training sale in Ocala, Florida a year ago. He overcame significant adversity going into the clubhouse turn and got a last-out Beyer of 98 winning the Sham -- highest in the field. Regular rider Kevin Krigger will be back on board.
A 7 1/4-length first-out maiden winner going 5 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 2 at Del Mar, O’Neill then sent the son of Into Mischief to Belmont Park for his second-place run in the Champagne. Well traveled and battle-tested, Goldencents has an five bullet works on his tab since the Sham, the most recent a six furlong drill in 1:11.60 (1/8), breezing.
Owned by W.C. Racing, Kenney, and Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, Goldencents is by far the leading money earner in the field with $782,000 in the bank from a record of 4-3-1-0.
4. Kochees was a first-out maiden winner going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course on Jan. 4. A Kentucky-bred colt by Lion Heart, he was fourth, beaten 6 1/2 lengths in his subsequent start, a one mile first condition allowance on Jan. 31.
Trainer Mike Pender and owner B.J. Wright don’t often consult the tote board before entering, they've have had great success with horses such as Ultimate Eagle and Jeranimo. Regular rider Jose Valdivia, Jr. knows him and Valdivia is no stranger to the Derby Trail. Based at Hollywood Park, Kochees has worked three times since his last start. He put in a five-furlong drill in :59.80 (1/28) on March 2.
5. Hear the Ghost is conditioned by Jerry Hollendorfer, currently third in the Santa Anita standings with 20 wins. He rolls the dice with the lightly-raced Kentucky-bred gelding by Ghostzapper.
A first-out maiden special weight winner going six furlongs on Dec. 15 at Hollywood, Hear the Ghost gave a good account of himself when running second in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at the same distance on Jan. 21. Corey Nakatani will take over for the first time. Hear the Ghost, co-owned by Hollendorfer and Halo Farms, will make his initial start going a route of ground.
Although he is a sprinter stretching out, Hear the Ghost has rallied from off the pace in both of his starts and may sit a stalking trip on Saturday. Hollendorfer may have him on edge. He’s worked six times at Hollywood since his last start.
6. Tiz a Minister was a good-looking last-to-first winner of the restricted $300,000 Cal Breeders Champion Stakes going a mile on Jan. 26. Tiz a Minister will again be ridden by Garrett Gomez, and it’s most likely he’ll employ similar tactics in the San Felipe.
With nine starts to his credit, Tiz a Minister, a colt by Ministers Wild Cat, has far more racing experience than anything else in the field. He was claimed out of his second start for $40,000. Trainer Paul Aguirre and owner S.A.Y. Racing LLC are hoping for a fast pace to run at. His overall record stands at 9-2-4-1, with earnings of $246,780.
7. Salutos Amigos, an impressive maiden allowance winner on Feb. 9, will stretch out for the first time. The question is whether the Kentucky-bred colt by Salute the Sarge is dangerous in this underdog role.
Off at 7-1 in that six-furlong race, Salutos Amigos pressed the pace through splits of :21.20, :43.40 and :55.60 before winning by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:08.40 -- good for a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. Originally trained by Kathy Walsh, Salutos Amigos was sold privately to following a second place finish in his maiden special weight debut on June 21.
Trained by the never-shy Cajun Eric Guillot, Salutos Amigos could make it tough on anyone with front-running designs in the San Felipe. Ridden by Leparoux in last two starts, he’ll be handled for the first time by Martin Garcia.
8. Omega Star is the other Cal-bred in the field. He comes off a second place finish to Tiz a Minister as the 4-5 favorite in the Cal Breeders Champion Stakes. Beaten 1 1/4 length after making the lead turning for home, Omega Star will make his fourth career start and his third start for trainer John Shirreffs.
A gelding by Candy Ride, Omega Star began his career in New York for owner/breeders Herman Sarkowsky and Martin Wygod. Trained in New York by Jimmy Jerkens, Omega Star was second at 22-1 from the rail going six furlongs at Aqueduct on Dec. 13. He was then transferred to Shirreffs and broke his maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs against state-breds on Dec. 31, breaking from the one post and winning by three lengths at even money.
Ridden by Leparoux in his last two starts, Joe Talamo will take over for the first time on Saturday. Omega Star has had four works at his Betfair Hollywood Park base since his last start and, like so many, appears to be coming to the race in fine fettle.
Edited Santa Anita release with additional content by Dick Downey