Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente is not worth any points in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system, but the seven-furlong test at Santa Anita figures to yield contenders for major Derby preps down the road. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is responsible for half of the six-horse field -- Grade 3-placed Shakin It Up and hotshot maiden winners Belvin and War Academy.
"The horses haven't run in a while, but they're all doing well and they've worked well," Baffert said Thursday morning. "There weren't any allowance races, so I went here."
Shakin It Up has flashed promise behind stablemate Super Ninety Nine, a smashing allowance winner who is bound for Monday's Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn. A closing runner-up to Super Ninety Nine in their mutual debut at this track and trip October 7, Shakin It Up came right back to romp in an October 27 maiden in last-to-first fashion. He defeated San Vicente rival Caballo del Cielo by 4 1/2 lengths and the useful Manando by six lengths.
Next time in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue on Thanksgiving Day, Shakin It Up had to alter course in the stretch before finishing fast for third, and just missed catching Super Ninety Nine for second.
From the first crop of Baffert-trained champion Midnight Lute, Shakin It Up reportedly had a foot bruise that cost him training time in January, but has been working regularly since his recovery. David Flores, aboard for his first two starts, regains the mount. The confirmed closer is drawn between his Baffert stablemates in post 2.
Belvin, a son of Empire Maker, finished second in his career debut at Hollywood Park on November 25. That turned out to be a key maiden. The winner, Distinctiv Passion, went on to compile a three-race winning streak, including the San Pedro Stakes. The third-placer was the aforementioned Manando, who broke his maiden impressively next out, checked in third in the Grade 3 Sham, and runs in Saturday's Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.
Belvin himself graduated in his second attempt, in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden here on opening day, and showed good tactical speed. He has drawn the rail with Rafael Bejarano, who has ridden him in both of his prior races.
War Academy broke his maiden at first asking, also going 6 1/2 furlongs, at Hollywood on November 9. The Giant's Causeway colt stalked and pounced that day with Martin Garcia, who will be back in the saddle.
The Ron Ellis-trained Treasury Bill, a rallying third to War Academy in his unveiling, turned heads in his January 27 maiden win at Santa Anita. Last early after a slow beginning in the 6 1/2-furlong dash, the Lemon Drop Kid colt rolled late to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths. Treasury Bill is bred to prefer two turns, as Ellis has acknowledged, and is using this as a springboard to bigger targets.
Mudflats looks to rebound in his second start for trainer Doug O'Neill, and earn another crack at the Derby trail. Purchased privately following his December 8 maiden score in the Aqueduct slop, the Tapit gelding was transferred to O'Neill, but stayed in New York for the Grade 2 Jerome on January 5. Mudflats shaped like a work in progress in that two-turn debut, arguing the pace while rank and fading to seventh. He reverts to one turn on Sunday and picks up new rider Edwin Maldonado.
Caballo del Cielo, a speedy type whose future likely lies in sprints, is the only entrant not nominated to the Triple Crown. As a juvenile, the son of Songandaprayer nearly won first time out for trainer Jeff Bonde, but was run down late by He's Had Enough. Caballo del Cielo was pitched into the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity as a maiden, tiring to fifth, in his only prior start at seven furlongs. Subsequently joining Steve Asmussen, he chased Shakin It Up before dominating a 5 1/2-furlong maiden last time out at Santa Anita on January 5.