The Santa Anita Handicap marks a potentially large stepping up platform for the four year olds and up in the first half of the season. Barring the Triple Crowns as a one time opportunity, this race is the crème de la crème of the entire range of older thoroughbred racing events save for the Breeder’s Classic.
Gauging on the events so far, despite a limited season’s journeys to the wire last year, Ultimate Eagle, trained by Michael Pender would strike back with a renewed energy following his impeccable win at the Strubs, a crucial prep race for the Santa Anita Handicap. The colt has previously won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, stopping briefly for a third spot in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes. The Strubs have been his first start for the season and the extended 7 ¼ lengths win over Jaycito, keeping Tapizar compromised at a fourth place with more than 10 lengths to absorb is quite an achievement.
Quite similar to Ultimate Eagle’s impressive start is the game champ from the Breeder’s Cup from last year; Game on Dude has already won his first start for the season, the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths. The race may have started slow for the winners briefly entering him into a speed duel with Jerry Hollendorfer’s Skipshot but steered clear and maintained it widening the gap by a decent length towards the final stretch.
Tapizar, who is also slated to start on March 3rd for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, would be starting for his third race this season with a not so gorgeous fourth place finish at the Strubs. However, his earlier race at Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes provides considerable ground for a vengeful fight by this Steve Asmussen trainee. In either races, Tapizar held off the Eoin Harty trained Balladry at safe distance who seems no comparison to this son of Tapit.
However, if Prayer for Relief by Bob Baffert makes another attempt at starting next to Tapizar in the Handicap race, his tight completion at third by a nose to Balladry in San Fernando and again finishing third ahead of Tapizar in Strubs makes him a potential candidate and also another spicing up element for this major Winter-Spring onset event.
Another possible candidate we could expect to see Jaycito who finished second by 7 ¼ lengths, another Bob Baffert entrant, in the Strubs. However, if Jaycito continues in his current form, overcoming his prior health problems littered with breathing discomforts and injuries, we have another extremely urging candidate up for contention.
Santa Anita Handicap has been running since 1935 and the track record has stayed with the 1978 Triple Crown winner, Affirmed for quite some time now. Though the last year winner Game on Dude is on full throttle, it should be quite an event following the tough rivalries surfacing that we may get to feast our eyes upon on the big day.
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