The first Saturday of major stakes horse racing in the month of February takes bettors to the West Coast for a jam-packed card at Santa Anita Park. Check our top horse selections.
The following is a look at an exacta pick for my top two contenders in this season’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes as well as my sports pick for a bonus stakes race on this Saturday’s card at Santa Anita.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes- Santa Anita Park
The Robert B. Lewis is a Grade 3 stakes race open to three-year old thoroughbreds and the total prize purse for this season’s event is $150,000. This race will be contested on the dirt track at Santa Anita over a total distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Saturday’s race is filled with seven entries led by trainer Bob Baffert’s Mor Spirit as the class of the field. This three-year old Pennsylvania-bred colt has already scored a key victory in a Grade 1 event with a victory in last year’s Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 19. This followed a second-place run in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in late November.
Mor Spirit comes into this race with the highest Horse Racing Nation in the field at 7.35 and he is the only horse in the field with a HRN rank at 143. Look for veteran jockey Gary Stevens to get the ride on Saturday.
My second choice for this race is Let’s Meet In Rio. This is another Baffert-trained entry with Kent Desormeaux aboard for the ride. Bred in Kentucky, he has already made an impact as a three-year old with a second-place finish in this year’s Grade 3 Sham Stakes at San Anita on Jan. 9. This should also give him a bit of a home-track advantage for this race.
After starting his racing career with a disappointing fifth-place finish in a Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita, Let’s Meet In Rio bounced back with a victory in a MSW at Los Alamitos in early December to close-out his juvenile campaign.
Bonus Race: San Antonio Handicap- Santa Anita Park
The richest prize purse for Saturday’s card at Santa Anita is $500,000 for this season’s San Antonio Handicap. This is a Grade 2 stakes race for four-year old thoroughbreds and up and it will be contested on dirt over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.
There is a veteran field of eight horses listed as entered for Saturday’s most lucrative event on the card. Four of these horses have already competed against one another in 2016 with a run in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes at San Anita on Jan. 9. The winner of that race was 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome with Imperative placing second and Hoppertunity finishing third. California Chrome is not in this field, but I am going with Hoppertunity as my favorite to win this time around. This five-year old Kentucky-bred colt is also trained by Baffert and ridden by Flavien Prat.
He comes into this race ranked 44th by HRN with a rating of 7.96, but the main reason I like his chances to win this race is a proven track record in major stakes races. In nine graded stakes races in 2015, he finished in the money seven times including a second-place run in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27 over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.
I would have to go with Imperative as my second choice on Saturday. Along with the second-place finish in the San Pasqual, this six-year old Kentucky-bred gelding closed-out last year by taking second place in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Del Mar on Nov. 28. He comes in to this race with a solid 7.71 rating by HRN.
Trained by Richard Baltas and ridden by Mike Smith, Imperative faded to sixth in last year’s San Antonio Handicap, but he did place second in this event in 2014 as a four-year old.