The Next Champion Emerges: Anticipating a Historic Triumph at the Santa Anita Handicap

Winning the Santa Anita Handicap: A Ticket to Greatness

When a horse emerges victorious in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, it instantly becomes a part of the conversation surrounding the best older horses in the country. This prestigious 1 ¼-mile race has seen the likes of legendary horses such as Seabiscuit, Hill Rise, Ack Ack, and Affirmed claim victory throughout its rich history. Triumphing in this race not only places a horse in esteemed company but also brings forth prospects of success in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic, as well as elevates its reputation as a formidable contender or a potential breeding stallion.

The Santa Anita Handicap: A Day of Racing Excellence

The Santa Anita Handicap takes center stage in one of the most significant racing days at Santa Anita. This event serves as the highlight amidst a card featuring three Grade 1 stakes and six graded stakes races. Among West Coast events for older horses, it stands tall alongside the Hollywood Gold Cup in May and the Pacific Classic held at Del Mar in August.

Express Train: Seeking Redemption

In any conversation about this year’s Santa Anita Handicap, the spotlight inevitably falls on Express Train. The 5-year-old progeny of Union Rags, listed as the morning-line favorite at 8/5, came close to victory in last year’s edition of the Big ‘Cap. He held the lead until the final sixteenth, only to be overtaken by Idol. Additionally, Express Train faced a disappointing sixth-place finish as the favorite in the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic last August. This raises doubts about his ability to conquer the demanding 10-furlong distance, as he is currently winless in three attempts at that distance.

However, Express Train’s recent performance in the Grade 2 San Pasqual at Santa Anita provides hope for his supporters. With an impressive come-from-behind victory, he showcased a strong finishing kick, overtaking Eight Rings at the quarter pole and fending off a late challenge. Trainer John Shirreffs remains confident, pointing to Express Train’s solid record of three wins, three seconds, and two thirds in nine races at Santa Anita.

Express Train’s Path to Glory

Shirreffs expressed his optimism, stating, “I think this was a little bit more difficult for him. There was a lot going on early with the fast pace… We’re looking forward to the Big ‘Cap.” A win or high placement in the Santa Anita Handicap would not only validate Express Train’s talent but also push his career earnings into the millionaire ranks. Currently boasting a record of six wins, four seconds, three thirds, and prize money totaling $935,800 from 16 starts, a triumph in this race would solidify his credentials as a high-caliber racehorse.

The Contenders: Stilleto Boy and Warrant

While Express Train basks in the spotlight, two other formidable contenders eye their own chances of victory at the Santa Anita Handicap. Stilleto Boy, listed at 5/2 odds, arrives fresh from a strong third-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, where he crossed the line 4 ½ lengths behind the exceptional Life Is Good. Stilleto Boy’s notable performance also came with an impressive 104 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest among the entries in this field. Although he may not have excelled in high-profile races like the Malibu Stakes or the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his consistent record of two wins, three seconds, and five thirds in 13 starts, accumulating earnings of $833,175, showcases his tenacity and competitiveness.

Warrant, at 4/1 odds, enters the Santa Anita Handicap following a commendable third-place finish behind Mandaloun in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes. The 4-year-old son of Constitution claimed a stakes victory last September at Remington Park, clinching the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby. With the capable Brad Cox as his trainer and Flavien Prat, Santa Anita’s leading jockey, in the irons, Warrant poses a serious threat to the favorites. Should Express Train falter over the 10-furlong distance, or if Stilleto Boy fails to reproduce his recent form, Warrant may seize the opportunity to secure a prestigious victory.

Other Contenders: Spielberg Eyes Redemption

Another intriguing contender in the Santa Anita Handicap field is Spielberg, listed at 8/1 odds. Although Spielberg finished fourth, trailing Express Train by 6 ½ lengths in the San Pasqual, he displayed promise with a three-length victory in a mile allowance race at Santa Anita in January. Trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, Spielberg seeks to recapture his 2-year-old form that propelled him to prominence. This race also serves as Spielberg’s first attempt at the 1 ¼-mile distance, providing a chance for the colt to earn his fourth career victory and secure Baffert’s sixth Santa Anita Handicap win.

Race Overview: Santa Anita Handicap Contenders

Here is a complete list of the Santa Anita Handicap contenders, their morning-line odds, as well as their respective jockeys and trainers:

  • Spielberg, 8/1 (Abel Cedillo/Bob Baffert)
  • Why Why Paul Why, 6/1 (Juan Hernandez/Michael McCarthy)
  • Warrant, 4/1 (Flavien Prat/Brad Cox)
  • Soy Tapatio, 20/1 (Diego Herrera/Doug O’Neill)
  • American Theorem, 12/1 (Mike Smith/George Papaprodromou)
  • Express Train, 8/5 (Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs)
  • Kiss Today Goodbye, SCR
  • Stilletto Boy, 5/2 (John Velazquez/Ed Moger Jr.)

The Road to Glory and the Pursuit of Greatness

Victory in the Santa Anita Handicap has the power to shape careers, transform reputations, and elevate horses to legendary status. As each contender strives for greatness, they also embrace the opportunity to etch their names alongside the illustrious champions of the past. The race not only showcases their prowess but also captivates racing enthusiasts who eagerly anticipate witnessing the unfolding drama and thrilling finishes that have become a hallmark of the Santa Anita Handicap.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the significance of winning the Santa Anita Handicap?

Winning the Santa Anita Handicap places a horse among the elite older horses in the country and opens doors to prestigious races like the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It also enhances a horse’s reputation as a worthy contender or a sought-after breeding stallion.

2. Which other races are considered top events for older horses on the West Coast?

The Hollywood Gold Cup in May and the Pacific Classic held at Del Mar in August are two other highly regarded races for older horses on the West Coast.

3. What are Express Train’s chances in the Santa Anita Handicap?

As the morning-line favorite, Express Train has strong prospects. Although he faced a near-miss in last year’s event, his recent victory in the San Pasqual and his impressive record at Santa Anita instill confidence in his ability to deliver a winning performance.

4. Who are the main contenders challenging Express Train?

Stilleto Boy, coming off a strong third-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and Warrant, with a recent third-place finish in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, pose formidable challenges to Express Train’s supremacy. Spielberg, aiming to recapture his early success, also adds intrigue to the race.

5. What is at stake for the horses in the Santa Anita Handicap?

For Express Train, a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap would propel his career earnings into the millionaire range. Additionally, all contenders seek recognition, a chance to enhance their reputations, and the opportunity to etch their names alongside past champions.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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