The San Felipe Stakes is known as one of the top Grade 2 Kentucky Derby preps in the country, the alma mater of Triple Crown race winners Authentic, California Chrome, Point Given, Fusaichi Pegasus and Affirmed. Aside from the 13 Derby champions and recently disqualified Medina Spirit, its alums found their way to winner’s circles across the globe, including last year’s winner: Life Is Good, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion.

Forbidden Kingdom-San Felipe
Forbidden Kingdom has led at the quarter-mile mark in every race. He’s the 8/5 favorite in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. (Image: Benoit Photo)

This year, it’s known as the race featuring the latest duel between two of the better 3-year-olds in California: Forbidden Kingdom and Doppelganger. Two sprinters tackling 1 1/16 miles for the first time with 50-20-10-5 Derby points up for grabs.

Well, those points are live for Forbidden Kingdom, the Richard Mandella charge who beat Doppelganger by 2 ¾ lengths in their Jan. 29 Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes meeting. For Bob Baffert’s Doppelganger, who finished fourth in that race as the 4/5 favorite, those points remain off the table due to the trainer’s suspension from Churchill Downs.

The son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Forbidden Kingdom – the 8/5 favorite here — hasn’t missed the board in four races (2-1-1). The $300,000 yearling purchase already banked $194,000 in those four races, none of which took Forbidden Kingdom beyond seven furlongs.

Forbidden Kingdom epitomizes front-runner

Expect Forbidden Kingdom to be the speed here, based on his strong, front-running win in the San Vicente and based on the fact he hasn’t run an opening quarter-mile slower than 21.92 seconds in his four races. In the San Vicente, he went gate-to-wire at 4/1, defeating Baffert’s Pinehurst and clocking a solid 94 Beyer Speed Figure along the way. Pinehurst came out of that runner-up to win the Saudi Derby last week on the Saudi Cup undercard.

“He’s as quick as they come,” Mandella told reporters after the San Vicente. “We’ll have to try two turns down the road here. He’s gotten better about everything.”

Up until the San Vicente, so had Doppelganger (9/5). He won his December debut at Los Alamitos by 3 ½ lengths which – along with the Baffert factor – made him the odds-on favorite in the San Vicente. But his strong finish in deep stretch couldn’t overcome a slow start.

San Felipe becomes the first two-turn outing for Doppelganger

Like Forbidden Kingdom, Doppelganger hasn’t tackled two turns or gone beyond seven furlongs yet. A victory by the Into Mischief progeny or stablemate Armagnac here would give Baffert his record sixth San Felipe win. The Hall of Fame trainer won four of the last six San Felipes.

Speaking of Armagnac (5/1), the “other Baffert,” expect him to be the other speed in this seven-horse field. He comes in off a 2 ¼-length score in a January maiden special weight that happened to come at this 1 1/16-mile distance. If 8 ½ furlongs is too far for Forbidden Kingdom, Armagnac could pick up the pieces here, based on his experience at that distance.

Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes/Santa Anita Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Happy Jack, 8/1 (Abel Cedillo/Doug O’Neill)
  2. Worst Read Sanchez, 20/1 (Mario Gutierrez/Doug O’Neill)
  3. Armagnac, 5/1 (John Velazquez/Bob Baffert)
  4. Beautiful Art, 12/1 (Mike Smith/Simon Callaghan)
  5. Doppelganger, 9/5 (Flavien Prat/Bob Baffert)
  6. Forbidden Kingdom, 8/5 (Juan Hernandez/Richard Mandella)
  7. Cabo Spirit, 5/1 (Victor Espinoza/George Papaprodromou)

If you’re looking for another deep exotic choice, there’s Cabo Spirit (5/1). Last seen finishing 15 lengths behind Messier in the Robert B. Lewis a month ago, Cabo Spirit won the one-mile Eddie Logan Stakes on turf two starts ago. His lone other victory in eight starts came in a Del Mar maiden special weight last November, but he has hit the board twice on dirt.