By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
On February 1st, one of the most exciting races of the weekend will be held at Santa Anita Park, that being the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II). The seven-furlong sprint for three-year-olds typically draws an intriguing field of runners, but this year, the race will be particularly significant thanks to the presence of Texas Red, who will be making his first start since romping to a 6 ½-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last November. But while Texas Red looms as the heavy favorite, six challengers will line up to face him, and winning the race will not be an easy task. Here are the entries:
||5th Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
|Punctuate (Scratched) |Martin Garcia
||1st Maiden Special Weight|
||2nd Maiden Claiming (VIDEO)|
||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
Obviously, all eyes will be on Texas Red, and rightfully so. His performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was breathtaking, as he raced in last place early on before sweeping past the entire field—seemingly in the blink of an eye—to win convincingly. His final time of 1:41.91 translated to a Beyer speed figure of 104, the second-highest figure earned by any two-year-old in 2014. In preparation for the San Vicente, Texas Red has posted a series of five solid workouts at Santa Anita, culminating with five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on January 24th. In many respects, Texas Red looks like a standout in the San Vicente.
However, as I dig deeper into the race, it’s fair to question whether Texas Red’s credentials are as imposing as they appear. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he took advantage of a blazing early pace that greatly aided deep closers—in addition to Texas Red, Carpe Diem also came from far back to finish second. In his previous start, when he encountered a moderate pace in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO), Texas Red was able to put in only a moderate rally to finish third, beaten 4 ¾ lengths. Additionally, the cutback to seven furlongs could cause Texas Red to end up even farther back than usual, leaving him with lots of ground to make up in Santa Anita’s rather short homestretch. Perhaps even more importantly, it must be noted that the San Vicente is merely a prep race for Texas Red, who is likely to run back on short rest in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds on February 21st. Keeping this in mind, it’s very unlikely that Texas Red is fully cranked for a peak effort this Sunday, and given the other question marks I mentioned, I’m going to try and beat Texas Red in this race with a horse offering better odds.
After much consideration, I finally landed on Bob Baffert’s other runner Lord Nelson as my selection. After winning his debut sprinting five furlongs at Del Mar, the colt entered the 8.5-furlong FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) and ran evenly to finish fourth, 1 ¾ lengths behind Texas Red. The colt then cut back to six furlongs for the Speakeasy Stakes (VIDEO) at Santa Anita and turned in a huge performance, pressing fractions of :21.47 and :44.47 before cruising home to win by nearly seven lengths in the time of 1:09.25. A late-season trip to Churchill Downs for the 8.5-furlong Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) did not go as planned, for Lord Nelson got off to a slow start and was more than dozen lengths off the early pace before rallying extremely wide to finish fifth.
Thus, Lord Nelson’s record shows that he has been unable to crack the trifecta in two-turn races, but is a perfect 2-for-2 while sprinting. Having drawn the rail in the San Vicente, I hope to see him break well and either secure the early lead or settle just off of it, then take command at the top of the stretch and hold off a late charge from Texas Red to triumph.
Another horse I will seriously consider is Serbian Syclone, a speedy son of Wildcat Heir that has drawn post two. Coming off of a 2 ½-length win in a six-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita, in which he set fractions of :21.90 and :44.50, Serbian Syclone appears to have the most early speed of any horse in the San Vicente, and while I don’t think he will be able to out-finish Lord Nelson in the homestretch, I do believe he has the talent to hang around for a major share of the purse, and perhaps even finish ahead of Texas Red.
I would also like to take a moment to mention Bench Warrant, who enters the San Vicente off a narrow victory in a 6 ½-furlong downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita. A late runner, Bench Warrant figures to appreciate the expected quick pace of the San Vicente and should be passing horses in the homestretch. Whether he is good enough to win is another question, but I definitely think he can be involved for the exotics.
Who do you like in the San Vicente Stakes?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!