GRADE II SAN FELIPE EXPECTED TO DETERMINE WEST COAST’S LEADING 3-YEAR-OLD; SWITCH HEADS STELLAR FIELD IN GRADE I SANTA MARGARITA

ARCADIA, Calif. (March 9, 2011) – If excellence in this year’s Triple Crown events is to emanate from the April 9 Santa Anita Derby, a West Coast 3-year-old likely needs to take a large step forward in Saturday’s Grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Grade I winners Jaycito and Comma to the Top are among 10 entrants in the 74th running of the mile-and-one-sixteenth competition that serves as the last major stepping-stone to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, a race whose starters have accounted for 36 Triple Crown victories including 15 in the Kentucky Derby.

During the past 10 years, four San Felipe winners have gone on to capture the Santa Anita Derby including Pioneerof the Nile (2009) and Sidney’s Candy (2010) to underscore the connection, but just who might make that leap this year remains highly problematical.

The Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds on Feb. 12 was supposed to anoint Tapizar as the West Coast’s leading Derby contender, but the 3-10 favorite fizzled as nondescript 8-1 longshot Anthony’s Cross nosed out 7-1 Riveting Reason. “The race produced more questions than answers,” noted Steve Asmussen, trainer of the now sidelined Tapizar.

So into the breach steps the San Felipe as the race that might establish a more coherent West Coast Derby pecking order. The winner, as Anthony’s Cross did in the Lewis, will qualify for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. If either goes on to take the Santa Anita Derby as well as the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse on May 21, he will earn a $5.5 million bonus with $5 million going to the victorious owner and $500,000 to the winning trainer.

The San Felipe on Saturday will share the spotlight with the star-studded Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes that determines the meet championship for older fillies and mares. The Grade I, $300,000 event at 1 1/8 miles has a lineup of seven including Switch and Always a Princess, already dual graded stakes winners this season.

Jaycito is expected to be the center of attention in the San Felipe. Zayat Stables’ son of Victory Gallop has exhibited a ton of talent, but his manners have been lacking at times. After gamely taking the measure of J P’s Gusto and Riveting Reason in last October’s Norfolk Stakes, Jaycito became the 5-1 third choice in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

In the Juvenile, he trailed the field of 10 early and ran up on heels going into the Club House turn. With jockey Mike Smith having difficulty handling Jaycito, the bay colt suddenly veered toward the outer rail. “He just bolted,” said Smith. “He left the gate with getting away from everybody (else) on his mind. From the word go, he did that.” Jaycito recovered well enough to finish seventh, but he was still 16 lengths behind victorious Uncle Mo, the solid early choice for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

Jaycito was subsequently transferred to the barn of three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. According to Baffert, Jaycito has been well behaved while working for his return on Saturday. “It will be interesting,” said Baffert. “We’ll learn a lot about Jaycito.” Martin Garcia, who was aboard in Jaycito’s first two starts, will be back atop the colt who has earned $210,000 from a 1-2-0 record in four races.

Comma to the Top, a gelding who was purchased at sale last April for $22,000, had an active 2-year-old season that included six wins – five in a row – in 10 races for trainer Peter Miller. He topped off the year with a 1 ¾-length victory over J P’s Gusto in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18.

But Comma to the Top faltered badly in his only start this year. As the 1-2 favorite in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 12, he checked in fourth, 4 ¼ lengths behind the winner, Silver Medallion.

Comma to the Top has worked well in preparation for the San Felipe. Corey Nakatani, aboard in his last four starts, has the return call on the gelding who has earned $563,600 for Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara.

A pair of highly impressive maiden race winners, Runflatout and Albergatti, find the San Felipe critical to their advancement.

Trained by John Sadler for West Point Thoroughbreds, Runflatout dazzled in his debut on Jan 29. He sped six furlongs in 1:07 3/5 to win by 2 ½ lengths while being geared down. The son of Flatter has prepared spectacularly for his first assignment around two turns. Following a seven-furlong drill in 1:24 2/5 on Feb. 28, Runflatout blistered six furlongs in 1:10 4/5 on Monday morning. Joel Rosario rides.

With Tapizar on the sidelines, Asmussen’s best 3-year-old hope on the West Coast in addition to Silver Medallion, would appear to be Albergatti. Well-regarded prior to his debut, the gray son of Unbridled’s Song tired to run second, but he was redeemed when returning to win at seven furlongs in 1:20 3/5.

“He’s a very talented horse,” said Garrett Gomez, who rides Albergatti for breeder Stonestreet Stables and Natrona Racing Stable. “He’s still learning. The main objective is to make sure he can get the two turns. He’s got a great mind to him, and he’s willing to listen. But you don’t know it until they do it.”

Two others who will be stretching out on Saturday have more sprint seasoning than either Runflatout or Albergatti. Bench Points is undefeated while sprinting four times. Premier Pegasus has won 3 of 4 sprinting including the Grade III Hollywood Prevue at Hollywood Park last November.

The complete field for the San Felipe Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Albergatti, Garrett Gomez, 118; Runflatout, Joel Rosario, 118; Surrey Star, Joseph Talamo, 118; Awesome Patriot, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Comma to the Top, Corey Nakatani, 123; Premier Pegasus, Alonso Quinonez, 118; Bench Points, David Flores, 118; Jakesam, Patrick Valenzuela, 118; Jaycito, Martin Garcia, 123, and Quail Hill, Martin Pedroza, 118.

Switch will be seeking her third successive Grade I victory in the 74th running of the Santa Margarita following decisive scores in the La Brea Stakes and the Santa Monica, both at seven furlongs. The mile-and-one-eighth distance may be the 4-year-old daughter of Quiet American’s biggest challenge.

In her only try at the distance last year, Switch faded to fourth in the Grade II Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March. However, she returned to beat divisional champion Blind Luck in the Grade II Hollywood Oaks at 1 1/16 miles. She lost by one-half length to Horse of the Year Zenyatta in the Grade I Lady’s Secret at the same distance at Hollywood Park in October.

Trained by Sadler for the C R K Stable of Susan Searing, Switch will have regular rider Rosario aboard as she attempts to add $180,000 to her career earnings of $782,600 from a record of 5-3-2 in 12 starts.

Like Switch, Always a Princess is on a roll. After finishing fourth behind Switch while sprinting in the La Brea, the Baffert trainee stretched out to reel off victories by over three lengths in both the Grade II El Encino Stakes and the Grade II La Canada. Each time, she left Blind Luck, last year’s 3-year-old filly champion, in her wake.

Garcia, who rode Always a Princess to victory in the La Canada as well as the Grade II Indiana Oaks last year, will be back in the saddle. Owned and bred by Arnold Zetcher, the 4-year-old Leroidesanimaux offspring has posted a career mark of 5-1-1 in 9 starts worth $516,048.

St Trinians figures to be a tighter sort after returning from eight months on the shelf to run a close third in the Grade II Santa Maria Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 12. Joe Talamo rides the British-bred who is trained by Mike Mitchell for Daniel Capen and Laura Chavers.

After seven races in England, St Trinians won her first four starts in the U.S. for Mitchell including the 2010 Santa Maria. She became the 3-1 favorite when facing males in the storied Santa Anita Handicap, but wound up a non-threatening sixth to Misremembered. St Trinians subsequently lost by one-half length to Zenyatta in Hollywood Park’s Grade I Vanity Handicap before going to the sidelines. The 6-year-old mare has earnings of $326,587 from a record of 7-1-4 in 14 lifetime starts.

Rounding out the main contention is Jay Em Ess Stable’s Vision in Gold, a wire-to-wire winner of the Grade II Santa Maria Stakes in her last outing on Feb. 12. The 4-year-old Medaglia d’Oro filly, who is trained by Ron Ellis, has won 3 of 8 starts and $172,480.

The complete field for the Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Party With Brando, Blanc, 118; Always a Princess, Garcia, 120; St Trinians, Talamo, 118; Switch, Rosario, 118; Vision in Gold, Bejarano, 118; Miss Match, Gomez, 118, and Hemera, Nakatani, 118.

The San Felipe will be presented as the eighth race on a 10-race program with the Santa Margarita going as the sixth. First post is at 12:30 p.m.

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