The Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park sends five 3-year-olds seven furlongs Saturday. Because this race involves sophomores and because it’s at Santa Anita, this naturally translates into another glimpse into the endless barn of Bob Baffert.
Back on the West Coast after his week-long hearing with the New York Racing Association regarding a suspension from that organization’s tracks, Baffert’s attention returns to his natural habitat: his Santa Anita barn. There, Baffert will send out three of the five sophomores in the San Vicente. The race often serves as a prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April.
On Saturday, the San Vicente is the most prominent of three graded stakes on Santa Anita’s card. Its sister Stronach Group track, Gulfstream Park, is the day’s racing epicenter. That track plays host to the Grade 2, $3 million Pegasus World Cup and $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf. The former features a scintillating match race between likely Horse of the Year Knicks Go and speedy challenger Life Is Good.
The latter was once a Baffert horse. Saturday, the Hall of Fame trainer contents himself with a trio of colts that demonstrate once again the depth of his barn.
Pinehurst tees off as the field’s money leader
The most accomplished of that trio is Pinehurst, who is 5/2 on Jon White’s morning line. All he did was win his first two races, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at 4/1 in his second start last summer. That’s one of five Grade 1 races for juveniles. His next effort, however, wasn’t as productive: a fifth by 8 ½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Still, Pinehurst owns a Grade 1 victory, along with the field’s best earnings haul of $272,000.
And yet, Pinehurst isn’t the favorite. That would be Baffert Entry No. 2, Doppelganger (8/5). The $570,000 yearling purchase and son of Into Mischief displayed a maturity beyond his experience breaking his maiden. In his Dec. 11 debut at Los Alamitos, Doppelganger roared into contention from the back of the pack, outkicking his rivals, and winning the six-furlong race by 3 ½ lengths.
Baffert returns star rider Flavien Prat to the irons, a sign illustrating his faith in the colt.
Mandella ready to play San Vicente spoiler
The trainer’s third entry is McLaren Vale (4/1). Like his stablemates, he too broke his maiden in his debut. That came in a New Year’s Eve maiden special weight at Santa Anita, albeit against only three other competitors.
Waiting to deny Baffert his 12th San Vicente crown is Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom (5/2). The product of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Forbidden Kingdom won his debut last summer at Del Mar. He then endured rough trips in both the Speakeasy at Santa Anita in October and the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar in November.
First, it was a third as the 9/5 favorite in the Speakeasy. Then came a second to Messier in the Bob Hope. While there’s no shame finishing second to one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, the fact Forbidden Kingdom’s Equibase Speed Figure dropped from 92 in the Speakeasy to 76 in the Bob Hope was alarming.
Forbidden Kingdom’s overreaching turns painful
But Mandella knows the reason why.
“He grabbed a quarter in his last race,” Mandella told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “It was a bad one and it took a while to heal up, but he’s back in good shape now.”
“Grabbing a quarter” is horse racing jargon for overstepping. It happens when a horse’s hind foot hits his front foot, cutting the front foot.
As for Forbidden Kingdom, his good shape is validated by a 1:12.40 bullet workout over six furlongs on Jan. 10.