By Nicholas Godfrey 4:08PM 10 MAR 2017
Preview: USA, Saturday 1am (Sun) GMT
Santa Anita: Santa Anita Hcap (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 4yo+
THE significance of Santa Anita’s race contest may have been denuded by its proximity to the twin five-figure World Cups – Pegasus and Dubai – but it remains a hugely coveted title on the west-coast circuit.
Indeed, well-fancied Midnight Storm (Phil d’Amato/Rafael Bejarano) was mentioned in dispatches for both the more lavishly endowed contests before his connections decided to stay at home for this $ 750,000 contest.
The six-year-old’s journey to the race known colloquially as the ‘Big Cap’ has been unusual inasmuch as he is a converted turf miler who even landed a Grade 1 on the lawn in 2016 in the Shoemaker Mile.
Connections opted to try the dirt again, and after an initial failure in last year’s Pacific Classic where he dueleld for the lead, Midnight Storm scored by nearly eight lengths in the Native Diver before taking the Grade 2 San Pasqual on January 1.
“He’s one of these horses, where he always trained so good on the dirt. You just kept scratching your head,” trainer Phil d’Amato said, speaking to the Blood-Horse. “We tried him in the Pacific Classic and maybe the timing wasn’t good in that instance.
“He always trained as good on the dirt as on the grass,” he added. “It’s fun to have a versatile horse who has a Grade 1 win on turf and hopefully now a Grade 1 win on dirt.”
Saturday’s 1m2f distance offers a big question mark for Midnight Storm, though on the plus side he ought to get the lead without too much difficulty from his inside draw.
He does, though, face a formidable rival in proven stayer Shaman Ghost (Jimmy Jerkens/Javier Castellano). The joint top weight was last seen chasing world champion Arrogate at a respectful distance when second in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
The field also features Californian handicap veterans Imperative (Bob Hess/Antonio Gallardo) – who won the Pegasus consolation race – and Hard Aces (John Sadler/Victor Espinoza) plus South American Grade 1 winner Hi Happy (Felipe Souza/Altair Domingos).
Also on Saturday
Santa Anita: San Felipe Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo (10.30pm GMT)
A major clash on the Kentucky Derby trail in this $ 400,000 contest as Grade 1 winners Mastery and Gormley face off. Mastery (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith), 10-1 favourite for Churchill Downs with Ladbrokes, took his unbeaten record to three with a seven-length victory in the Grade 1 Futurity at Los Alamitos in December for his four-time Derby-winning trainer.
Gormley (John Shirreffs/Victor Espinoza) won the FrontRunner here last autumn and beat a strong field in the Sham Stakes in early January, while Iliad (Doug O’Neill/Flavien Prat) comes in after taking the San Vicente following a layoff.
Santa Anita: Frank E. Kilroe Mile (Grade 1) 1m, turf, 4yo+ (12.30am Sun GMT)
Dual Grade 1 victor Dortmund (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) begins his five-year-old campaign by switching from dirt to turf as he makes his debut for California Chrome’s trainer following owner Kaleem Shah’s much-publicised split with Bob Baffert.
Ring Weekend (Graham Motion/Rafael Bejarano) and What A View (Kenny Black/Tyler Baze), who won this in 2015 and 2016 respectively, are back for more.
Santa Anita: Triple Bend Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 4yo+ (midnight)
Controversial sprinter Masochistic (Ron Ellis/Mike Smith), disqualified after coming second at the Breeders’ Cup when he tested positive for steroids, bids to repeat his 2015 success.
Tampa Bay Downs: Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo (10.27pm GMT, live on ATR)
An open-looking contest in the absence of McCraken, who has had a minor setback since winning the Sam F Davis, the main Tampa trial for this.
Todd Pletcher, who has won three of the last four editions, saddles both Sam Davis second Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz) and the speedy Sonic Mule (John Velazquez).