The steppingstone between the Santa Anita Handicap and the May 31 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita will be held Saturday on a 9-race card that also includes the Mizdirection Stakes for filly and mare turf sprinters. The 1-1/8 miles Californian will give a new cast a chance to audition as Santa Anita Handicap winner Idol will bypass the race and Big ‚Cap runner-up Express Train ventures to Arkansas for the same-day Oaklawn Handicap.
Country Grammar and Independence Hall are both Grade 3 winners, while the latter is Grade 1-placed. Royal Ship was a Group 1 winner in his native Brazil and Grade 2-placed in the US. The others are stepping up significantly in class. Independence Hall has kept the strongest company lines.
None of these 5 has ever made the early lead in any of his career races. The pace will be a new-look dynamic for some of these. Growth Engine with blinkers on from the rail could be sent. Magic On Top and Independence Hall would be the other most likely candidates to make the front or push the pace.
#1 Growth Engine – Ridden by Tyler Baze and trained by John Sadler. Showed quality last summer but his first start at Santa Anita on March 28th was not a good one. That came off of a 6 month lay-off so it is at least encouraging that trainer John Sadler would decide to bring him back against this group of horses. This is probably a better group of horses so it is tough to envision a win from Growth Engine, but certainly can’t be dismissed at a nice price.
#2 Magic On Top – Ridden by Umberto Rispoli and trained by Bob Baffert. The Baffert trainee has 4 starts and 2 of those are wins. He has been impressive early on in his career, and picks up top jockey Rispoli for this race. Rispoli is winning at an incredible 24% rate. Normal jockey Flavian Prat decided to go with Independence Hall in this same race. Should be a top contender in here.
#3 Country Grammar – Ridden by Abel Cedillo and trained by Bob Baffert. The other of the Baffer trainees has been racing against much tougher competition. Country Grammar was last seen in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga, but has been off now for 8 months. This horse was entered last week in a much lesser race and they scratched him out of that race to point him in here. There is hurdles here, but he is most impressive if he’s ready off this long lay-off.
#4 Royal Ship – Ridden by Mike Smith and trained by Richard Mandella. This horse came to the states with a strong reputation from Brazil. He had won 5 in a row in Brazil before making the switch over to the United States. Since being here though he hasn’t found much success. His best finish has been 4th place, but this is the softest field he’ll face since coming over. I think Royal Ship has a big shot in here.
#5 Independence Hall – Ridden by Flavian Prat and trained by Michael Mccarthy. The obvious horse to beat in here, but I think he can definitely be had. He has run well in his last 3 against very good competition but has come up empty in all 3 of those races. While this is definitely a softer field it will be interesting to see how this race shapes up. This is a strange pace scenario and I think Prat will have to force this one to stay close. If any one of these horses gets an easy lead they could go wire-to-wire.
1: #3 Country Grammar
2: #5 Independence Hall
3: #4 Royal Ship
4: #1 Growth Engine
5: #2 Magic On Tap