Saturday Stakes Preview: In Santa Anita’s Big Cap, Effinex ships in as a legit fave


>>Go to the PPs for The Santa Anita Handicap|Post Time 4:40 PST

The Grade 1, $1,000,000 Big Cap has a field of nine horses going a mile and 1/4 on the main track. The field is led by Effinex, who is 2-1 on the ML and was last seen winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

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According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be longshot Cyrus Alexander, #6. He is followed by Donworth, General a Rod, and Melatonin. And let us add that when Cyrus Alexander and his midpack running style is projected to be the early leader in a horse race, we are looking at a race that is empty of true frontrunners.

The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 119, belongs to Imperative.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Point Piper (12-1): Took a step in the right direction in the Grade 3 Mineshaft at FG, finishing 3rd and running a 117, but that came after he ran close to a slow pace, and this six-year-old is running several points off his best. Plus he has had no real success at the Grade 1 level.

Melatonin (20-1): His only graded stakes attempt was in a Grade 3 turf sprint. He is untried at this distance. He has never run a figure at any distance that would come close to the best of these.

Donworth (3-1): Four-year-old O’Neill colt jumped out of his skin off the layoff and on the ship to CA and the move to the O’Neill barn. His previous figures were 95 108 112 106. He jumped to a 128 while running a game 3rd to Hoppertunity in the Grade 2 San Antonio five weeks ago. The performance sure looked legitimate to us. The race had solid early fractions and was dominated by horses coming from off the pace. Donworth was able to overpower Cat Burglar and then stay strong to the wire. O’Neill gets an 82 rating second off the layoff. Donworth’s early speed should be an asset in here. His breeding, while not ideal for this distance, at least qualifies as adequate. The big question for us is whether he can avoid a reaction to that huge jump-top.

General a Rod (4-1): We are against him in the top spot because we don’t particularly believe that his Gulfstream slop effort will transfer to SA, and we don’t particularly want a Pletcher horse shipping out of Gulfstream anyway. What is more, all of his previous races are too slow for us to take him at relatively short odds.

Effinex (2-1): 7 for 20 lifetime, 12 out of 20 in the trifecta, proven at the distance, proven at the Grade 1 level, capable of firing off short layoffs, and goes for a trainer who gets a perfect 100 rating off this sort of layoff. Effinex has quite a bit going for him. He also has a 130 speed figure two races back, and a string of strong numbers supporting it. His running style should have him within striking distance. According to our Race Ratings, he has been facing slightly superior horses in his last two starts. Yes, he will have to prove he can handle what can be a tricky ship, but he is the horse to beat, as we see it.

Cyrus Alexander (20-1): Four-year-old was off the board in his only two graded stakes. However, the recent one was a sneaky-good effort in which he ran a lifetime-top speed figure of 123 while no match for Hoppertunity, Imperative, or Donworth. We have to respect Hollendorfer’s decision to run him in a Grade 1 today. He could be flattered by the expected soft fractions. And it will not take a lot of improvement to get him into the superfecta at a huge price. One to use underneath.

Hard Aces (12-1): Grade 1 winner still runs some decent speed figures but hasn’t seemed quite right to us in eight months. And with 28 races under his belt, he does not seem like the best candidate to turn things around suddenly.

Imperative (3-1): We have never been the biggest fan of this gelding’s. However, he has been on a roll of a sort lately, finishing second in three straight graded stakes. On our speed figures he is faster than ever. He has been a little bit less of a plodder of late. He is in a strong barn. But we have doubts about his fondness for this distance, and we think he might well be at a pace disadvantage. So we are leaving him out of the top spot.

Class Leader (30-1): Dirt speed figures are too slow. Could well be dropping back to last out of this post position. Has had no success in graded company.

The Bottom Line:

We see Effinex as the most likely winner. We see Donworth as the most likely upsetter. Those are both chalky opinions. Our favorite bomb in the race is Cyrus Alexander.

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