Could this be Spielberg’s long-awaited Oscar moment? Is Saturday’s Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita Park the race where Spielberg finds box-office – or winner’s circle – gold?

Spielberg-AP Stakes
Spielberg was a breeder’s box-office smash, selling for $1 million a year ago at Keeneland. He strives for his first victory in Saturday’s American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita Park. (Image: Keeneland)

The $1 million juvenile comes into his third race as the 3/1 morning line favorite in this eclectic, but well-bred, field of 2-year-olds. Named for the 2015 Triple Crown winner who captured this race as the 1/2 favorite when it was known as the FrontRunner Stakes, the American Pharoah is one of three Grade 1 stakes, and one of seven stakes overall on Saturday’s Santa Anita slate.

The 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah offers its winner an all-expense-paid spot in the Oct. 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. To date, three horses have captured both races: Chief’s Crown (1984), Capote (1986), and Nyquist (2015). Nyquist went on to win the Kentucky Derby. American Pharoah sat out the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a foot injury, leaving Texas Red to blow away the Juvenile field by 6 ½ lengths. That, after Texas Red finished third to American Pharoah in the 2014 FrontRunner.

It also offers bettors and would-be futures bettors a glimpse into potential 2021 Kentucky Derby hopefuls. They have eight here of varying backgrounds to pick through, and the field is so even that only one horse – 20/1 Dyn O Mite – carries odds greater than 8/1.

That balanced field starts with Spielberg. A $1 million purchase at the Keeneland September 2019 Yearling Sale, the son of 2012 Belmont Stakes champion Union Rags takes on two turns for the first time.

Spielberg Cast as Maiden Favorite in a Grade 1 Stakes

Trained by Bob Baffert, Spielberg carries the favorite tag despite finishing second in his first two starts. Both came at Del Mar and both came to Dr. Schivel, the latter by 1 ¾ lengths at the Sept. 7 Del Mar Futurity. Luis Saez, who will ride Maximum Security in the Awesome Again Stakes, gets the director’s chair. He’s seeking not only Spielberg’s maiden-breaking blockbuster win, but Baffert’s 10th American Pharoah victory.

On the other end of the price spectrum is Weston (6/1). While Spielberg’s owners, the powerhouse partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson shelled out seven figures for that yearling, Weston came from the same sale’s bargain bin. He cost owners Chris Drakos and Ryan Hanson just $7,000.

For that, Drakos and Hanson, who trains Weston, bought the only graded stakes winner in this field. Weston broke his maiden right out of the barn, winning a 4 ½-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita in June. He followed that with a gritty 1 ¼-length victory in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar.

Weston’s Speed Numbers Heading South

After winning that six-furlong race, the gelding finished third in the Del Mar Futurity. Ominously, his Equibase Speed Figures dropped every race, from a 93 to an 84 to a 77.

Neither of those two tackled two turns yet. The same can’t be said for Waspirant (6/1) or Rombauer (8/1). Another Union Rags progeny, Waspirant won a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar three weeks after finishing fourth in his six-furlong debut. He now adds blinkers, and with Umberto Rispoli, has one of the best riders in the field.

Rombauer, a Twirling Candy progeny, broke his maiden over a mile on Del Mar’s turf course in late July. He bounced off that into a sixth-place finish in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes earlier this month.

Three Others had Get Her Number’s Digits

The horse who finished fourth in that latter race, Get Her Number (7/2), seized the lead until the quarter-mile pole, but settled for fourth, beaten by noses for second and third. He won his debut, a five-furlong sprint, in August.

This field goes so deep that two others bear attention as contenders: Notable Exception (7/2) and Touchdown Brown (5/1). Notable Exception is the X-factor, running and winning only one race – a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Arlington Park earlier this month. The son of 2006 Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense turned in a lowly 64 Equibase in his 5 ¼-length romp. But returning to Keeneland, he clocked a 59.8 five-furlong workout, illustrating his increased stamina and strength coming out of it.

American Pharoah Stakes

Morning Line (Jockey)

  1. Touchdown Brown, 5/1 (Juan Hernandez)
  2. Rombauer, 8/1 (Mike Smith)
  3. Dyn O Mite, 20/1 (Victor Espinoza)
  4. Notable Exception, 7/2 (Abel Cedillo)
  5. Spielberg 3/1 (Luis Saez)
  6. Get Her Number, 7/2 (Flavien Prat)
  7. Weston, 6/1 (Drayden Van Dyke)
  8. Waspirant, 6/1 (Umberto Rispoli)

Touchdown Brown found the end zone in his debut, clocking a 96 Equibase in a 4 ½-furlong June sprint. His connections next turned him loose in the Graduation Stakes, where Touchdown Brown flunked, finishing last as the 11/10 favorite. Trainer Rafael Becerra put blinkers on the California-bred son of Cairo Prince, and Touchdown Brown answered with a half-length runner-up finish in the Cal-bred-only I’m Smokin Stakes.

Rispoli Suggested the Blinkers

The blinkers helped Touchdown Brown to a 95 Equibase. His rail position and a promised speed duel in front of him could help him to his second victory.

The pick: Waspirant. He owns a victory over two turns, has the speed, the form, and the rider in Rispoli to steal this race and enter the 2021 Derby discussion.