A field of 10 sophomores has been entered to go 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, and trainer Bob Baffert holds a powerful hand in the form of Liaison and Bodemeister.
The Hall of Fame conditioner almost saddled a trio in the race, but a setback earlier in the week has forced Fed Biz to stay in the barn.
"It's nothing serious," Baffert said. "He tied up a little."
That leaves Liaison and Bodemeister to take up the slack, and the latter will be making his stakes bow in the San Felipe. Named after Baffert's son, Bode, the Empire Maker colt enters the race off an impressive 9 1/4-length maiden victory going a mile on February 11. Prior to that, the bay Bodemeister ran second while sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs.
"Bodemeister looked pretty damn impressive," Baffert stated. "I'm sort of surprised by what he did, but this is the time of year that we want horses to surprise us. We were a little late getting him going, but I'll tell you one thing -- I've never seen a slow, fit, seasoned three-year-old win the Derby. You still have to have that talent."
Bodemeister will try to run his way into Kentucky Derby contention with a win in the San Felipe and, with the defection of Fed Biz, keeps the services of jockey Rafael Bejarano for his black-type debut.
Liaison already knows how to play the stakes game thanks to wins in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity and Real Quiet Stakes from his two-year-old campaign. The bay Indian Charlie colt made his first start as a sophomore in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 4, which was captured by 43-1 longshot I'll Have Another. Liaison, meanwhile, lost his rider, Bejarano, in the stretch after getting squeezed back and stumbling badly. With his regular jockey picking Bodemeister, Liaison will get Martin Garcia in the saddle for the first time.
Bodemeister and Liaison won't have an easy time providing Baffert with a fifth San Felipe win.
70-year-old conditioner Mike Harrington will saddle both Creative Cause and Empire Way to oppose the pair, and the former will be looking to snap a two-race show streak here. The gray son of Giant's Causeway was an easy 3 1/4-length winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes last October over track and distance, and ran well in his past two, just missing by a length while third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. Joel Rosario stays aboard Creative Cause, who could return to his winning ways in this stretch-out.
Empire Way has yet to score against winners, but the dark bay showed improvement when switching from the synthetic Cushion Track at Hollywood Park to Santa Anita's dirt for the Lewis most recently. The Empire Maker colt rallied to be second in that 8 1/2-furlong event, and he'll get a jockey change to Brice Blanc since regular ride Rosario has opted for his stablemate.
"The timing for both of them kind of dictates that I run them this weekend," Harrington explained about running both of his pupils in the San Felipe. "Creative Cause will lay close and the other horse will come from back. They won't interfere with each other as far as running styles; it's just that I need earnings for Empire Way and if the other horse beats him, I'm shooting myself in the foot. But you have to do what you have to do sometimes."
Third behind Empire Way in the Lewis was Groovin' Solo, but that dark bay son of Bob and John was disqualified and placed seventh. That bumped Rousing Sermon up to the show spot in his sophomore debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Lucky Pulpit colt will be renewing his rivalry with Liaison in the San Felipe after running second by a half-length and a neck, respectively, in the Real Quiet and CashCall Futurity.
Midnight Transfer just got up to take the San Pedro Stake by a head last out and will be trying a route of ground in this spot for the first time. The Carla Gaines-trained Hard Spun colt easily broke his maiden in his fourth try by 4 3/4 lengths in late December and gets Victor Espinoza in the saddle for the San Felipe.
American Act will also be stretching out here following a nose second in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. The son of Quiet American had Bodemeister two lengths behind in second when breaking his maiden at Santa Anita on January 16 and will pair back up with Martin Pedroza to seek his first black-type score.
Completing the San Felipe field are Tiz Point, a Richard Mandella-trained colt by Tiznow who will be trying dirt for the first time, and Blingo, a bay Artie Schiller gelding from the barn of John Shirreffs. The latter runner is returning off a close sixth in the CashCall Futurity.