This March’s Kentucky Derby prep race schedule heads back to Santa Anita Park this Saturday for the running of this year’s San Felipe Stakes as the stepping stone for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
A strong field of three-year old contenders is expected for this key Kentucky Derby Trail event. Every three-year old horse entered in this event has already presented themselves as a quality thoroughbred, but two of the entries have gone above and beyond to establish themselves as the perfect pairing for a winning exacta bet for our sports picks in this year’s San Felipe.
San Felipe Stakes- Santa Anita Park
The Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes is the second in a series of three key Kentucky Derby prep races at Santa Anita Park. This Saturday’s event carries a total prize purse of $400,000 and it will be run on dirt over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
This year’s San Felipe has seven horses listed as entered in what should be a pretty deep field. I am going chalk in this one with Mor Spirit as my top choice. This Pennsylvania-bred colt has the highest Horse Racing Nation rating in the field at 7.30 and he has famed trainer Bob Baffert calling the shots. Best of all, he has a victory in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 6 under his belt in his three-year old debut.
Mor Spirit firmly established himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender as a juvenile with a second-place run in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs followed by a big win the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Stakes on Dec, 19 over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
My second choice for Saturday’s race would be Smokey Image. Trained by Carla Gaines, this three-year old Kentucky-bred colt comes into this race with a solid 7.01 HRN rating and deservedly so after winning the non-graded California Cup Derby at Santa Anita on Jan. 30 at a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
This horse has been a winner since Day 1 and he comes into Saturday’s event with a perfect 6-0 record in six races. Five of the victories have come in non-graded stakes races so there is some concern stepping up in class to a graded event, but I believe Smokey Image will be up to the task of challenging Mor Spirit at this distance.
Bonus Pick: Tampa Day Derby- Tampa Bay Downs
This Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby is a Grade 2 stakes race open to three-year old thoroughbreds with a total prize purse of $350,000. It will be contested on dirt track at Tampa Bay Downs over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
There are currently 10 horses listed as entered for this race in what has turned into quite a strong field of contenders. All eyes will be on Brody’s Cause as a likely morning line favorite and I am not about to bet against this Kentucky-bred colt in his three-year old debut. Trained by Dale Romans, look for jockey Corey Lanerie to get the ride in this horse’s first race since his impressive third-place finish in last October’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Nyquist and Swipe.
Brody’s Cause is the only ranked horse in Saturday’s field and he has the highest HRN rating at 7.12. Also on his juvenile resume is a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland before his successful run at the 2015 Breeders’ Cup.
My second choice for the Tampa Bay Derby would be Destin as one of two entries in this race by famed trainer Todd Pletcher. He will also have some star power at the jockey position with Javier Castellano slated to get the ride. I went with this three-year old Kentucky-bred colt as my top choice in last month’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay and he did not disappoint in that first-place run over 1 1/16 miles.
This was a much better performance than his finish out of the money in fourth place in January’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in his three-year old debut. All of his recent workouts point towards him only getting better as the Kentucky Derby prep schedule wears on.