The 80th running of the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe on Saturday at Santa Anita features a trio of high-profile Kentucky Derby aspirants. Mastery is the one with the most buzz surrounding him, as is typically the case with undefeated colts at this time of year. However, he figures to face stiff challenges from the two other budding stars in the field, Gormley and Iliad.
Incidentally, all three of these runners possess a great deal of early speed. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. None of these three has won a race coming from more than one length off the early pace, so they figure to be aggressively ridden in the early going.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, TERM OF ART: If the aforementioned three go too fast early, forcing the pace to collapse, I suppose this plodding son of Tiznow could make his way into the trifecta. However, he will need that exact scenario to play out for him to have any chance of making an impact. On the positive side, he is coming off a career-best speed figure in last month’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes despite having been compromised by a moderate pace in that race. Still, of the three Doug O’Neill trainees, he’s the hardest to get behind.
#2, VENDING MACHINE: He ran the best race of his career on turf and was beaten by Term of Art in his last dirt race. He prefers to be forwardly placed, which will not serve him well in a race featuring so much speed. Others appeal more.
#3, ANN ARBOR EDDIE: It’s unfortunate that this California-bred finds himself in such a tough spot because there are some things to like about him. He has experience racing around two turns, having won a pair of route stakes over California Diamond, a talented California-bred who has never finished out of the exacta in 10 career starts. Ann Arbor Eddie’s lone loss on dirt came at the hands of Mastery in his second start last November. While he was no match for that rival, it is worth pointing out that Mastery had the run of the race that day, setting slow fractions (indicated by blue color-coding in the PPs), while Ann Arbor Eddie was attempting to rally from just off the pace. It’s harder to find an excuse for his loss in the El Camino Real Derby last time, when he worked out a great trip, but it’s possible that he simply prefers dirt. If one of the top three falters, he’s the most likely to benefit.
#4, MASTERY: This son of Candy Ride won his three starts with relative ease at odds of 1-5 each time. He has shown a great deal of professionalism for such a lightly raced horse, responding to Mike Smith’s cues in each of his stakes victories. While those performances appeared to be quite impressive at the time, Gormley and Iliad have since run speed figures that nearly match or surpass the Beyer and TimeformUS Figures that Mastery was assigned for his wins in the Bob Hope Stakes and Los Alamitos Futurity. Given the hype surrounding this undefeated colt, he is going to be a strong favorite, and I’m not convinced that he should be. Let’s take a hard look at what he’s actually accomplished in his two stakes wins:
As previously mentioned, Mastery enjoyed a pace advantage when he won the Bob Hope. While he may have won with something left, he didn’t finish that far ahead of Ann Arbor Eddie, who will be a longshot here. The Los Alamitos Futurity is the race that stamped him as an early Kentucky Derby favorite, but what did he actually beat that day? Second- and third-place finishers Irap – who is still a maiden – and Dangerfield returned to get walloped by Royal Mo in a weak Robert B. Lewis last month. Mastery has never faced a field of this quality, and he’s probably going to have to overcome real adversity for the first time with both speedy rivals drawn outside of him. I’m taking a stand against him here. If he wins, I’m going to lose.
#5, GORMLEY: In my opinion, this is the horse to beat. If you excuse his Breeders’ Cup performance – in which he raced four wide into the first turn and was used up chasing the fast pace – he has not done anything wrong in his three other starts. He earned the highest Beyer and TimeformUS Speed Figures in the field for winning the Sham back in January over a game American Anthem. I was pleased to see how well he rated off that foe in the early stages and battled back late after making the lead a bit prematurely.
John Shirreffs typically likes to take his time with young runners, but Gormley was just too talented at the start of his career, winning a Grade 1 race in just his second start. I get the sense that he’s still figuring things out and that we have not yet seen the best of him. Gormley’s developing versatility should allow him to sit the perfect trip in this race. I don’t expect Mike Smith to get in the way of Mastery’s early speed, and one would imagine that Iliad will be tugging at the bit as he stretches out from sprints. Gormley could find himself sitting just off these two in the early going.
#6, ILIAD: This relatively recent Doug O’Neill acquisition is obviously quite fast. He was able to comfortably track sprint fractions in both his maiden win and the San Vicente, unleashing powerful late bursts in the stretch of each of those races. So, the question is: Can he ration out that speed and negotiate two turns for the first time?
Iliad’s pedigree sends mixed signals. His dam was a confirmed sprinter, but her only other foal to make a name for himself is Melmich, a rare runner who actually excelled in marathon events. He scored his most impressive victory in Woodbine’s Valedictory Stakes going 14 furlongs. Furthermore, both Iliad’s sire, Ghostzapper, and Melmich’s sire, Wilco, are by Awesome Again, so they share many of the same genes. If Iliad can transfer his San Vicente form to this route race, he is a major threat to win. I’m not totally persuaded, but he does figure to be the biggest price of the three main contenders, so I have to use him prominently.
#7, BLUEGRASS ENVY: This hopeless longshot probably should be running in maiden-claiming races rather than a major Kentucky Derby prep race.
I believe that Gormley (#5) is the most likely winner, and I would bet him to win at odds of 2-1 or greater. I’ll also play exotic wagers keying Mastery and Iliad behind the top pick while throwing in longshots Term of Art and Ann Arbor Eddie underneath in larger trifectas.
Exacta: 5 with 4,6
Trifecta: 5 with 4,6 with 1,3,4,6
Trifecta: 5 with 3 with 4,6