The Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park may not be a Kentucky Derby prep in the strictest sense of the term. There are no Derby qualifying points on the table and the winner gets no closer to a gate date at Churchill Downs the first Saturday of May.

Freedom FIghter-SV Prev
Freedom Fighter comes to the Grade 2 San Vicente off a five-month layoff. “The Other Baffert” in the field is a 5/2 second favorite in what is a small, but strong field for Saturday’s race at Santa Anita. (Image: Benoit Photo)

That said, disabuse yourself of the notion any of the five contenders in the seven-furlong San Vicente can’t get there from here. First, the San Vicente is a key prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April.

Second, yes, there are only five horses, but the San Vicente offers perhaps the best field of any 3-year-old race this weekend. That includes the two “official” Derby preps: the Withers at Aqueduct and the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

And finally, look at the winner’s roll. All you have to do is look back five years, when Nyquist won the 2016 San Vicente in February. He was wearing roses in May.

San Vicente Provided Baffert His Breakout Horse

Go back 19 years from that and you find Silver Charm in the San Vicente winner’s circle. Three months later, Bob Baffert’s first San Vicente winner became the first of his six Kentucky Derby winners. Even last year’s winner, Nadal, was one of the front-line Derby favorites before a career-ending injury knocked him off the Derby trail.

Naturally, Baffert finds his way into this plot. Why wouldn’t he? Nadal was the Hall of Fame trainer’s 10th San Vicente winner. In a race dating to 1935 – Santa Anita’s first season – Baffert’s 10 titles dwarf any other trainers.

And naturally, Baffert’s endless Santa Anita barn cranks out two more San Vicente contenders. While Sham Stakes winner Life Is Good and Robert B. Lewis winner Medina Spirit chill out awaiting future gigs, Baffert sends out 8/5 favorite Concert Tour and 5/2 Freedom Fighter.

Concert Tour’s Next Stop: The San Vicente

When we last saw Concert Tour, he romped and frolicked to a 3 ½-length victory as the even-money favorite in a maiden race Jan. 15. This, of course, vaulted Concert Tour to stardom on the Kentucky Derby futures boards, because, well, Baffert. Concert Tour is 11/1 at Circa Sports, 10/1 at William Hill Nevada. Those are microscopic odds for a horse making his second start and first graded stakes start, another testament to the Baffert Effect on Derby prospects.

But the nature of that victory indicated Concert Tour wants more distance than these seven furlongs. Joel Rosario, who gets the ride Saturday, had Concert Tour in hand over the final sixteenth.

Baffert is a believer in using the San Vicente as a stretching post of sorts. Turn them loose over seven furlongs and see how their speed handles that distance – one of the most difficult for horses to navigate because of its hybrid nature. It’s akin to the 400 meters in track: a race that requires a sprinter’s speed and a distance runner’s stamina.

Seven Furlongs is Uncharted Territory for This Field

In terms of distance, the scale is level. All five horses in the field haven’t gone beyond 6 ½ furlongs. Concert Tour’s victory came at six furlongs. Freedom Fighter’s one and only race came five months ago, when he won a five-furlong sprint at Del Mar by a head as the 1/2 favorite.

Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes/Santa Anita Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Freedom Fighter, 5/2 (Drayden Van Dyke/Bob Baffert)
  2. The Chosen Vron, 5/2 (Mike Smith/Eric Kruljac)
  3. Uncle Boogie, 12/1 (Abel Cedillo/Andrew Lerner)
  4. Found My Ball, 3/1 (Mario Gutierrez/Doug O’Neill)
  5. Concert Tour, 8/5 (Joel Rosario/Bob Baffert)

“Going seven-eighths is a tough distance, but he’s quick and he’s had good works,” Baffert told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “He broke his maiden first out and then we had to back off him, but he’s doing well.”

So well, that the son of Violence rolled out three bullet workouts. The most recent of those being a 59.6-second five-furlong dash Jan. 28 that was the fastest of 70 horses at that distance that day.

Two Cal-Breds Find Themselves In the Deep End

Somehow, two other San Vicente contenders aren’t Baffert charges. Found My Ball (3/1) comes from Doug O’Neill’s barn, the same barn that produced Nyquist. The California-bred Square Eddie product had a ball in his Jan. 22 maiden victory, blowing away the field by six lengths.

The other is another Cal-bred moving into the deep end of the pool: The Chosen Vron (5/2). This gelding hammered his Cal-bred rivals by 6 ¾ lengths over 6 1/2 furlongs Dec. 27. The son of Vronsky, The Chosen Vron was supposed to run in the Jan. 16 1 1/16-mile Cal Cup Derby, but trainer Eric Kruljac scratched him because of a cough. With him running well, Kruljac and his partners deposited The Chosen Vron into the San Vicente.

The pick: Freedom Fighter. Concert Tour winning this surprises nobody, especially from his outside post. But along with the “Other Baffert” value play, call this one a hunch. There’s a reason Freedom Fighter is in this race and his powerhouse ownership group: SF Racing, LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, LLC and Robert Masterson likely expects results here. Even Baffert answers to stakeholders, which explains why he runs his horses where he does.