Affirmed. Sunday Silence. Alysheba. Silver Charm. Real Quiet. California Chrome. These legendary Kentucky Derby winners combined to win 13 Triple Crown races, 16 Eclipse Awards, and $39,010,435. And—oh yes—they all won the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita as well.
Held in March, the San Felipe primarily serves as the final local prep for the Santa Anita Derby (G1). But the 1 1⁄16-mile is also a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race offering 50 qualification points to the winner, enough to virtually guarantee a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
The San Felipe dates back to 1935, but didn’t settle into its current format and distance until 1952. Even still, the early years were productive as Jet Pilot (sixth in 1947) and Determine (victorious 1954) went on to claim victories in the Kentucky Derby.
Others quickly followed their lead. Tomy Lee (1959), Lucky Debonair (1965), Alysheba (1987), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and Giacomo (2005) won the Kentucky Derby after finishing second in the San Felipe, while Triple Crown champion Affirmed (1978), Horse of the Year Sunday Silence (1989), and the flashy Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) emulated Determine by sweeping the San Felipe/Derby double.
The San Felipe endured a dry spell during the late 2000s, partly attributable to Santa Anita racing over a synthetic track for three seasons, but the race bounced back boldly during the 2010s. Future Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1) winner California Chrome dominated the 2014 San Felipe in the fast time of 1:40.59, just missing the stakes record of 1:40.11 set by Consolidator in 2005. Bodemeister (2012), Dortmund (2016), and Exaggerator (2016) also used the San Felipe as a springboard to in-the-money finishes under the Twin Spires, reiterating the San Felipe’s standing as a critical test on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
By J. Keeler Johnson
Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes