Express Train is attempting to do something in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes that illustrates how deep the field of this race typically is.

Express Train and Victor Espinoza could be the first tandem to repeat in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes in more than 50 years. The San Pasqual is a strong prep for the Santa Anita Handicap. (Image; Benoit Photo)

California Chrome didn’t do it. Neither did Accelerate. Nor Silver Charm, Alphabet Soup, Flying Paster, or Native Diver. All of the above won this sturdy race that dates to 1935. None of the above repeated as San Pasqual champion.

You’d have to go back to February 1969 to find the last back-to-back winner of this 1 1/8-mile prep for the Santa Anita Handicap. That would be Kings Favor, who strangely enough, was the second horse that decade to repeat. The first was Olden Times in 1963-64.

This is the feat laying before Express Train, who won last year’s San Pasqual by 3 1/4 lengths for the first of his three 2021 victories. All three came in graded stakes: the San Pasqual, July’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, and the Dec. 26 Grade 2 San Antonio on Santa Anita’s opening day.

Express Train beat Hot Rod Charlie

That score came by a nose over sizzling sophomore favorite Hot Rod Charlie, who bettors hammered down to 1/5. None of that mattered to 7/1 Express Train, who caught Hot Rod Charlie at the wire for his fifth career victory in 15 starts.

Last year, Express Train parlayed his San Pasqual victory into what could have been his first Grade 1 victory. He led the Santa Anita Handicap by two lengths going into the stretch. He led with less than a sixteenth to go before Idol came around on the outside and nipped him at the wire.

In his other Grade 1 starts, Express Train hasn’t embarrassed himself. He owns a second in the 2020 Malibu (to Charlatan), a third in the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup (to Country Grammer), a sixth in last year’s Pacific Classic (to Tripoli), and a third in the Awesome Again (to Medina Spirit).

Law Professor also comes in off Grade 2 score

To get that historic repeat, Express Train must power by an eclectic field that starts with Law Professor. The 4-year-old Constitution gelding comes in off his last-out score in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, which was on the same Santa Anita Dec. 26 card as the San Antonio. That was his second consecutive victory.

Express Train must also get by Bob Baffert’s flashy tandem of Eight Rings and Spielberg. Both scored impressive wins as 2-year-olds. Eight Rings won the Grade 1 American Pharoah and Spielberg the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. Both fell off the Derby trail before grinding out modest comebacks.

Eight Rings, a 5-year-old Empire Maker progeny, finished third in the San Antonio, nearly catching Hot Rod Charlie for the place. He’s gunning for his first victory since an allowance score last October.

Here’s Spielberg, ready for his close-up

Spielberg, the one-time $1 million golden colt in Baffert’s barn, captured a Jan. 14 one-mile allowance. That was his first race in 9 1/2 months since he finished a miserable eighth in the Florida Derby last March. Even with that, Spielberg has seven in-the-money finishes in 10 races (3-3-1).

Then, there’s Kiss Today Goodbye. He kissed off his competition in the 2020 San Antonio, but hit the board only once in five races since then. That came in November’s Grade 3 Native Diver at Del Mar. He comes in off a dismal seventh in the San Antonio, a last-place finish complete with a 32 Equibase.

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