The Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes marks the point of the year where Bob Baffert’s endless 3-year-old depth finally makes him compete with himself.
Yes, he’s sent out Life Is Good and Medina Spirit in the Sham. Yes, we saw Concert Tour nip Freedom Fighter in the San Vicente. But those were the preliminaries, the feeling-out period where Baffert figures out who is his varsity and who comprises his sophomore JV on the Kentucky Derby trail.
The San Felipe is where things get serious. Not just because the 1 1/16-mile race offers 50-20-10-5 Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers. And not just because Baffert’s top Derby prospect and arguably his No. 2 – or 2A if you prefer Concert Tour over Medina Spirit – headline one of the strongest Derby prep fields to date.
Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park is one of the top Grade 2 Derby preps of the season. If a field of Life Is Good, Medina Spirit, The Great One, Roman Centurian and the intriguing Dream Shake isn’t enough horsepower for you, let’s open the history books and see who won this race in the past.
How does it feel joining the San Felipe alumni class?
Affirmed. Sunday Silence, Alysheba. Silver Charm. Real Quiet. California Chrome. Authentic. Every one a Kentucky Derby winner. And every one a San Felipe alum.
Those seven names racked up one Triple Crown (Affirmed), 14 Triple Crown races, 18 Eclipse Awards and more than $46 million in career earnings. Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and California Chrome each won two-thirds of the Triple Crown.
Affirmed, Sunday Silence, Fusaichi Pegasus, California Chrome and Authentic all pulled off the San Felipe/Derby double. Tomy Lee, Lucky Debonair, Alysheba, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Giacomo all won Derbies after runner-up finishes in the San Felipe.
The history lesson is clear. Hit the San Felipe board and you demand consideration as a front-row Derby prospect.
Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes/Santa Anita Park
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Life Is Good, 4/5 (Mike Smith/Bob Baffert)
- Dream Shake, 5/1 (Joel Rosario/Peter Eurton)
- Medina Spirit, 7/2 (John Velazquez/Bob Baffert)
- None Above the Law, 30/1 (Flavien Prat/Peter Miller)
- The Great One, 4/1 (Abel Cedillo/Doug O’Neill)
- Govenors Party, 50/1 (Mario Gutierrez/Daniel Franko)
- Roman Centurian, 8/1 (Juan Hernandez/Simon Callaghan)
This is where we find our favorite: Life Is Good (4/5). In the front row of legitimate Derby threats. Starting with a Baffert horse in the San Felipe is never a bad idea here, considering he’s won seven of these, starting with the aforementioned Silver Charm and ending (to date) with Authentic last year.
Life Is Good is Baffert’s top Derby prospect. He owns the top Beyer Speed Figure of any 3-year-old – the 101 he clocked in his gate-to-wire win in the Sham Stakes in early January. And he led at every call in his two starts. Starting from the rail is almost heaven-sent for a horse who controls the pace as well as he does.
And before you can, Baffert found Life Is Good’s flaw for you. He said Life Is Good needs to save some of his dynamic early speed for the stretch – the better to prevent snatch-and-grab attempts from the likes of Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit would be the star in any other barn
Which brings us to the “Other Baffert” – 7/2 Medina Spirit. There’s not a trainer in North America that wouldn’t take this “Other Baffert” in a heartbeat. One of the grittiest horses on the Derby trail, Medina Spirit nearly caught Life Is Good in the Sham, taking a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure as his consolation prize.
Then, he turned away furious deep-stretch challenges from Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie to win the Robert B. Lewis on Jan. 30. This is a versatile horse you ignore at your peril – especially with Hall of Famer John Velazquez coming in to ride — and it’s a testament to Baffert’s ridiculous depth that Medina Spirit isn’t his top Derby contender.
Right now, The Great One (4/1) isn’t technically Doug O’Neill’s top Derby contender. That would be Hot Rod Charlie. But if there’s a horse who can break up the Bafferts, it’s the son of O’Neill’s 2016 Derby champion Nyquist. The Great One lost by a nose to the manic-depressive Spielberg in the Los Alamitos Futurity last fall. He turned that into a 14-length dissection of a maiden mile field in January.
San Felipe offers variety of running styles
If The Great One lives up to his name, he’ll have to show that early speed holds over 8 ½ furlongs. He needs to either press and pass Life Is Good or stalk in the hopes someone steps up and pushes him in a suicidal speed duel.
Should all of that pace collapse, there’s Roman Centurian (8/1) picking up the pieces. The Simon Callaghan trainee left everything on the dirt in his photo loss to Medina Spirit in the Lewis. His late-running style could grab him a piece of the board here. At the very least, the bottom of your exotics.
Then, there’s Dream Shake (5/1), your aforementioned wild card. He vaulted from unknown outside his connections to low odds on Derby futures boards after his debut maiden victory at 20/1 last month. That race featured odds-on favorite Bezos, yet another Baffert sophomore, who finished a non-threatening seventh.
How does Dream Shake up this class jump?
While he has plenty of talent along with those low Derby futures odds (20/1 at both Circa Sports and William Hill Nevada), Dream Shake goes from that maiden race to a Grade 2. That’s a significant class leap for a horse making his second career start.
“It’s a very salty race, but we’ve had expectations for him,” trainer Peter Eurton told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “He’s always done things right, always shown stamina and done things pretty well within himself.”
The pick: Life Is Good. Yes, he’s stretching out another half-furlong. So what? Why complicate things, especially when the favorite has won or placed in nine of the last 10 San Felipes? Santa Anita morning line author Jon White said after watching Life Is Good reel off another powerhouse workout that “he looks like he’s floating on air.” This time, Life Is Good’s levitation act carries him into the Derby.